Coming off of a three-set victory over Indiana, Maryland volleyball was riding high as it seemed to be back on track, but it was swept by Michigan last night.
Maryland’s struggles continued in its first game of the weekend, losing the first set by double-digits and being unable to close out the second set despite holding a 26-25 lead. Middle blocker Rainelle Jones and outside hitter Paula Neciporuka were bright spots for the Terps, combining for 16 kills and a .304 hitting percentage. Outside hitter Sam Csire struggled in this one, however, only posting four kills and a -0.063 hitting percentage.
Now, Maryland will face the Michigan State Spartans on Saturday.
After sweeping Iowa on Oct. 1, the Spartans have only won one set. Similar to Maryland, Michigan State has only won one conference game, making this game important for confidence. The Terps will make the trip over to East Lansing following their loss to Michigan on Friday night.
Saturday’s game against the Spartans will start at 6:30 p.m. and it can be streamed on B1G+.
Michigan State Spartans 8-8, (Big Ten 1-6)
2020 record: 3-12
Head coach Cathy George is a collegiate volleyball pioneer, paving the way for female head coaches. George was the first woman to coach in the NCAA division 1 Final Four, leading UT-Arlington in 1989. In her 16 years at Michigan State, she has elevated the Spartans into one of the most prestigious programs in the country, appearing in seven of the last 10 NCAA tournaments, including three trips to the Sweet 16 and an Elite Eight finish in 2017. George already has the most wins of any head coach in program history with 656, 13th among active D1 coaches.
Players to know
Sophomore outside hitter Sarah Franklin, 6-foot-4, No. 13— After only appearing in seven matches as a freshman, Franklin suffered a season-ending injury. Since suiting back up for the Spartans, she has been phenomenal, averaging the second-most points per set (4.54) and third-most kills per set in the Big Ten (3.94). Franklin is also second on her team in blocks (36), third in digs (104), and fourth in assists (14).
Sophomore setter Celia Cullen, 6-foot-1, No. 2 —Cullen has been a key piece to the Spartans offense since arriving at Michigan State, leading the team in assists per set for the last two years, averaging 10.57 this year, third in the Big Ten. Cullen has also been important on the defensive end as she is fourth on the team in digs (98) and blocks (23).
Senior middle blocker Naya Gros, 6-foot-3, No. 17 — Gros has been the Spartans' most consistent player over the last four years, starting in every single match. She has multiple tournament MVPs under her belt and was selected for the Big Ten Foreign Tour in 2019. Gros is third in the Big Ten in blocks per set (1.57), fourth on the team in hitting percentage (.273), and fifth on the team in kills (65).
Aces per set. Despite their 1-6 conference record, Michigan State is middle of the pack in almost every statistical category relative to the rest of the Big Ten. The only statistic that they are top three in is service aces per set. Similar to Michigan, the Spartans are a very good serving team, averaging 1.64 service aces per set.
Offensive limitations at the net. While being right in the middle of the Big Ten with 12.90 kills per set, the Spartans rank tenth in hitting percentage (.222), two spots below the Terps. Maryland’s defense will need to take advantage of Michigan State’s inconsistent offense at the net.
Three things to watch
1. How will Terps bounce back after a disappointing night? Maryland will face off against Michigan State just 24 hours after getting swept by Michigan, a game they needed to win to stay in top-25 contentions. With this loss still looming over them, it will be interesting to see if the Terps can start fresh, or let the disappointment of last night seep into Saturday night’s game.
2. Can the Terps take advantage of a weak defensive matchup? Maryland surrendered 16.67 kills per set and a .295 hitting percentage against Michigan, a little disappointing considering Maryland’s identity is their defense. Michigan State is by no means an elite offensive squad, so the Terps should be able to take advantage of this matchup and reign terror on the Spartans.
3. Can Maryland contain Franklin? Sarah Franklin is one of the most lethal offensive weapons in the Big Ten, putting up 16 kills on a .234 hitting percentage against a challenging opponent in Minnesota last week. Rainelle Jones will have to continue her dominance if the Terps want to slow down Franklin and the Spartans' offense.