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Maryland volleyball weekend preview: Gamecock Invitational

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The Terps travel to Columbia, South Carolina, for the Gamecock Invitational starting Friday night.

@TerpsVolleyball

Maryland volleyball finishes up its nonconference schedule this weekend at the Gamecock Invitational, beginning Friday night against South Carolina.

Through nine matches, the Terps have gone 6-3, and six of those have been decided by a fifth set.

The Terps went 2-1 as tournament hosts at the Maryland Invite, finishing the weekend with a 3-2 win over Princeton. After a winning weekend, Maryland improved to 6-3 on the season with the Gamecock Invitational to come.

South Carolina (5-4) — Friday, 6 p.m.

The Gamecocks are arguably Maryland’s toughest nonconference opponent this season, and they are no stranger. The Terps lost to South Carolina 3-2 last season at the Maryland Invite, so Friday night will be a redemption match.

South Carolina has played a tough schedule so far, with four of its losses coming to ranked teams or teams that have received votes in the AVCA Coaches Poll: Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, UCF and Wisconsin.

The Gamecocks have turned it around from a 1-3 start, going 4-1 in their last five matches — due in large part to senior right side Mikayla Shields, who has 111 kills on the season and put up 22 in their 3-2 win over Clemson last Thursday.

It will be a tough opening test against a team who is hitting .275 overall and has 44 less attack errors and 31 less service errors.

Kennesaw State (7-3) — Saturday, 11 a.m.

This is the first time the Terps and Owls have played each other, and right now, Kennesaw State is hot. After starting out the season 1-2, the Owls are 6-1 in their last seven matches.

The Owls are 3-2 in five-setters this season, plus they’ve played tough against 2018 NCAA Tournament teams, sweeping High Point away and taking Samford to five sets at home.

Kennesaw State is led on offense by junior outside hitter Lauren Chastang, who is 19th in the country with 159 kills this season, averaging 3.70 kills per set. In her last three matches, Chastang has recorded 61 kills, including two-straight matches of 20+ kills.

On defense, the Owls are led by junior libero Karlee Groover. In her last three matches, Groover recorded 20+ digs, including 29 in Kennesaw State’s 3-2 loss to Samford.

The Owls are fifth in the country with 80 service aces this season, as well as fifth in the country with 583 total kills, so if the Terps want take this match, they need to stand tall at the net.

Appalachian State (3-7) — Saturday, 6 p.m.

The Mountaineers have played half their matches against Power Five opponents this season, going 0-5 in those matches. Appalachian State is 1-4 in its last five, which favors Maryland coming in.

However, there are a few difference-makers to look out for, starting with senior outside hitter Emma Longley, who leads the team with 149 kills this season, an average of 3.92 kills per set.

Right now, Appalachian State has one of the best liberos in the country in Emma Reilly, who is tied for 13th in the country with 203 digs this season and 22nd in the country with 5.34 digs per set. Maryland will need to shut at least one of them down to be successful in the match.

Offense is Appalachian State’s weakness right now, hitting .189 as a team, but let Longley get loose and it could be a long match for the Terps.

Three things to watch

1. Will Maryland continue to bring on the blocks? The Terps come into the weekend 12th in the nation with 100.5 total blocks. Maryland is led by Katie Myers, who is fifth in the country with 56 total blocks and one menacing death stare.

2. How will the Terps face against their toughest competition yet? On paper, these are the toughest opponents that Maryland has faced in a tournament, and it’s perfect timing with the Big Ten season around the corner. The Terps will need to step it up if they want a winning weekend.

3. Will the Rath of Rebekah continue? Freshman outside hitter Rebekah Rath led the Terps in kills last weekend. While Erika Pritchard leads the team with 152 kills, Rath is right behind her with 111 so far, an average of 2.71 kills per set.