The B1G time is almost here but Maryland will get a taste of the big time this weekend as it takes on two top ten opponents in Washington and USC in Seattle. The matches will provide a similar feel of B1G conference matches. The athletes, atmosphere and attention will help prepare the Terps for the following weekend in Illinois.
On Thursday night, Maryland faces Washington. The Huskies are off to a 9-0 start having only lost four sets on the season to BYU and Gonzaga. Last season, they lost to eventual national champion Penn State in the semifinals and had the national player of the year in outside hitter Krista Vansant. The 6-2 senior is again as dominant as ever, leading the team with 4.27 kills per set. Vansant will very well likely be the best player the Terps face all season. Other key players are 6-1 junior middle Lianna Sybeldon (1.77 blocks per set - 3rd in the country) and 6-0 senior outside Kaleigh Nelson (3.03 kills per set). The Huskies have great balance offensively and control the ball well in serve receive and defense. They are definitely in the mix for another final four run and perhaps a national championship.
The next night the Terps take on the USC Trojans who after beginning the season 6-0, dropped two matches at home to #21 Texas A&M and #7 Florida. They have two dynamic attackers in 6-4 sophomore Ebony Nwanebu and 6-2 junior Samantha Bricio. Nwanebu (3.00 kps) hits on the left and right sides but lines up primarily at opposite (right side). Bricio (3.37 kps) has perhaps the second most devastating serve in the country (behind Penn State's Micha Hancock) and averages 0.83 aces per set which ranks third in the nation. USC utilizes a 6-2 offense with back row setters rotating in for larger attackers. The 6-2 typically provides more offense and size at the net but makes it difficult to develop a rhythm due to constant changes. Also with a recent change to twelve team substitutions per set, a team may run out of subs near the end of a close set. Ball control has been an issue early in the season as the Trojans attempt to replace All American Natalie Hagglund who graduated and now trains with the U.S. National Team.
This weekend is much like a B1G exhibition tournament. Maryland has little to lose but will gain a tremendous amount of experience playing highly skilled and athletic teams in front of loud crowds and more watching on the PAC-12 network.
The skill, power and pace will test the Terps and unfortunately I believe they will drop both matches. However, there is no better way to prepare them for conference play and I'm confident that the trip will prove invaluable later during the season.