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Maryland volleyball vs. Northwestern preview

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The Terps are seeking their first win in two weeks.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

After losing three straight matches, Maryland will need to capitalize on the easier matchups that approach on its schedule if it wants to stay in top-25 consideration.

Last weekend’s matchup against Ohio State was a tough one for the Terps as they were unable to win a set. Maryland did show fight, though, never losing a set by more than seven, but its poor hitting percentage plagued them again. The Terps hit at an underwhelming .148 hitting percentage, while Ohio State hit at a .306 clip, a difference that is hard to overcome.

Maryland will now face its first unranked conference opponent with the Wildcats, who are coming off a five-set heartbreaker to Minnesota. Northwestern led 2-0 in the match and scored 29 points in the fourth set, but were unable to pull off the upset.

Friday’s match will begin at 7 p.m. as the Terps welcome Northwestern to College Park.

Northwestern Wildcats 6-9 (1-3 Big Ten)

2020 record: 4-6

Head coach Shane Davis is a two-time national champion and is entering his sixth season as Northwestern’s head coach. During his 12-year career as the head of the Loyola University men’s volleyball program, Davis built a powerhouse, leading the Ramblers to three straight national semifinals and back-to-back NCAA championships in 2014 and 2015. Davis finished with a career record of 265-88 and won four Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Coach of the Year honors.

Davis hasn’t had the same success with Northwestern, as he has yet to lead the Wildcats to a winning record. Northwestern has played pretty well in conference play so far, winning eight of its last 15 sets, and barely losing to No. 7 Minnesota.

Players to know

Junior outside hitter Temi Thomas-Ailara, 6-foot-2, (No.12): Thomas-Ailara has been the offensive leader for the Wildcats since she was a freshman, leading the team in kills all three years. She is dominant again this season, ranking seventh in the Big Ten in kills per set (3.68), ninth in the Big Ten in service aces per set (.37), and fifth in the Big Ten in points per set (4.46). Thomas-Ailara will be a focal point in this match and someone the Terps should heavily prepare for.

Sophomore setter Alexa Rousseau, 6-foot-3, (No.5): Last time these two teams met, Rousseau gave Maryland all types of trouble, recording 45 assists, two aces, and three blocks in the Wildcats five-set victory. Rousseau has picked off right where she left off last season, leading the team in assists (565), ranking third in digs (122), and ranking fourth in service aces (11).

Senior libero Megan Miller, 5-foot-6, (No.23): Miller was the former 55th overall prospect and top-five libero according to PrepVolleyball.com, who transferred from Nebraska last year. So far this season, Miller leads the team in digs (200), is second in assists (65), and fifth in service aces (10).

Strength

Service line defense. Northwestern’s biggest strength recently has been its defense at the service line. Over their last two matches, the Wildcats have held their opponents to a .145 hitting percentage and average four blocks per set. Maryland will have to avoid getting stopped by its opponent in attacking areas.

Weakness

Kills per set. The Wildcats’ biggest weakness all season long has been on the other side of the service line. Northwestern ranks bottom-five in the Big Ten in kills per set and only accumulated a .190 hitting percentage, despite a 3-0 victory. If the Terps are able to execute on defense, then it should be able to have an upper hand against the Wildcats.

Three things to watch

1. Can the Terps regain their confidence with the return of Neciporuka? After losing five straight sets the Terps’ confidence is not at an all-time high. Luckily, outside hitter Paula Neciporuka will be returning to the lineup this weekend as she looks to revive a Maryland offense that heavily struggled without her. She’s been a positive force for the Terps, especially with her hitting ability, and her return could spark Maryland’s attacking game.

2. What can be expected from each team’s game plan? Both teams have had six days of rest and practice to prepare for this match, so we should be in for a battle of strategy. Expect the Terps to commit to shutting down Temi Thomas-Ailara as she is the focal point of an already struggling offense, and if she is shut down the Wildcats will be in danger. It’s expected that Northwestern will develop schemes and plays to avoid middle blocker Rainelle Jones who leads the nation in blocks per set (1.80).

3. Can Maryland get back on track? Since beating Wisconsin in their first game of conference play, the Terps have only won two sets, both coming in their five-set loss to Penn State, in which they held a 2-0 lead. Northwestern is the first conference opponent that Maryland will play that isn’t ranked and the Terps need to capitalize.