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Maryland volleyball weekend preview: Indiana and No. 16 Purdue

The Terps look to end a five-match losing streak this weekend in Indiana.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland volleyball goes on the road to Indiana this weekend, facing the Hoosiers on Friday night and No. 16 Purdue on Saturday night.

With six matches left this season, the Terps are out of most NCAA Tournament projections. Maryland needs four wins to finish 2019 at .500, a 16-16 record with eight Big Ten wins, which is still way below its expectations.

The toughest part of the Terps’ schedule is over, ending with 15-straight set losses. And now Maryland’s schedule gets considerably easier, as it plays three of the worst teams in the Big Ten by conference record — a combined 6-36 record between Indiana, Iowa and Northwestern.

The other three matches are against ranked opponents, two of which are ranked in the bottom half of the top-25: Purdue and No. 25 Illinois.

Indiana (13-14, 2-12 Big Ten) - Friday, 7 p.m.

This the second meeting between the two programs this season, after Maryland came back from a 2-0 deficit at home to defeat the Hoosiers in five sets.

Both teams have had a similar trajectory since that match as each is struggling to get back to .500, and fell to the bottom of the conference with 10+ losses a piece so far.

The Hoosiers ended a nine-match losing streak with a straight-set win over Rutgers on Saturday and are looking to avenge their five-set collapse against the Terps on Oct. 16.

Indiana is struggling on attack, coming in with the Big Ten’s second-worst hitting percentage, but a .197 opponent hitting percentage doesn't bode well for Maryland.

Players to watch

Breana Edwards, sophomore outside hitter, No. 11. Edwards will be Maryland’s focus on defense as she’s Indiana’s best attacker, hitting .173 with 323 kills and 3.26 kills per set this season. She has also been a help on defense, with 130 kills and 50 total blocks.

Haley Armstrong, freshman defensive specialist, No. 14. Armstrong has been relied upon as the center of Indiana’s defense and has done well in her freshman season. She leads the Hoosiers with 283 digs and 3.53 digs per set this season, including a season-high 23 digs against the Terps in October.

Deyshia Lofton, senior middle blocker, No. 16. Lofton is one of seven seniors on Indiana this season, but her impact has been the greatest of the seven. She is second on the team with 214 kills, hitting .305 and she leads the Hoosiers with 104 total blocks, which is fourth in the Big Ten.

No. 16 Purdue (16-7, 8-6 Big Ten) - Saturday, 7 p.m.

The Boilermakers have been a perennial top-25 team for some years now, but this season, Purdue has cemented its place to stay ranked.

A five-set win over then-No. 5 Nebraska helped out tremendously as Purdue sits sixth in the conference, having won five of its last six matches.

Purdue comes in as the second-best blocking team in the conference, averaging 2.77 blocks per set. Plus, the Boilermakers’ .236 hitting percentage is sixth in the conference.

Like Maryland, the Boilermakers are a good serving team, currently fifth in the conference with 1.41 service aces per set.

Players to watch

Jena Otec, junior defensive specialist, No. 19. Otec is Purdue’s best defensive player, leading with 342 digs and 3.69 digs per set. And she is also its best server with 36 service aces and 0.41 service aces per set, which is second-best in the conference.

Shavona Cuttino, redshirt senior middle blocker, No. 9. Cuttino is a two-way threat for the Boilermakers. While landing 116 kills this season, she is hitting .299. Cuttino’s biggest role on Purdue is at the net, where she leads the team with 101 total blocks and 1.31 blocks per set, which is fifth and third in the Big Ten, respectively.

Caitlyn Newton, junior outside hitter, No. 4. Newton is one-half of Purdue’s outside hitter duo, along with sophomore Grace Cleveland. Hitting .210 this season, she leads the Boilermakers with 295 kills and 3.69 kills per set this season and is fourth with 44 total blocks. Maryland will need to keep an eye on her and Cleveland on Saturday.

Three things to watch

1. Can Maryland end its losing streak? This weekend is the most important one of Maryland’s season. There is potential for the Terps to go 2-0, but after losing five straight, getting back in the win column could shift momentum for the rest of the season — though there isn’t much left to salvage.

2. Will the Terps beat their first ranked team this season? Maryland has had success against the Boilermakers before, beating them in five sets in 2017. But the Terps fell to Purdue twice last season, each in four set losses. The key for the Terps will be getting out to a fast start.

3. How will Indiana respond to the Oct. 16 loss? Indiana had the match all but finished off, putting the Terps on the ropes after taking a 2-0 lead. However, the Hoosiers couldn’t finish the job, which will be on the players minds as Friday approaches. Maryland needs to expect an all-out effort from Indiana, much like the first two sets of their previous match.