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Maryland volleyball vs. No. 11 Nebraska preview

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The Terps start their four-game road trip with the Cornhuskers.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

After losing in four sets to Purdue, Maryland volleyball was swept by Michigan marking its second straight loss.

The Terps started out slow from the jump, falling to a 12-6 deficit early in the first set, and eventually losing 25-13. The second set didn’t see much improvement as Michigan won 25-14.

Maryland cleaned up its play in the third set after heading to the locker room during the intermission. The Terps found themselves up 16-11 but were unable to close out the set, securing their fate. Outside hitters Paula Neciporuka and Sam Csire still had solid games despite the loss, combining for 21 kills, 17 digs, and two service aces.

Maryland’s next opponent, No. 11 Nebraska, has gone through an extremely rough stretch of games, playing ranked opponents in each of its last five matches, and losing three of them.

Nebraska is coming off of a disappointing three-set loss to Ohio State and will look to bounce back on Friday night at 7 p.m. at home.

No. 11 Nebraska Cornhuskers 17-6 (11-3 Big Ten)

2020-21 record: 16-3 (14-2 Big Ten)

Head Coach John Cook is in his 22nd season as the Cornhuskers head coach after taking over for the legendary Terry Pettit in 2000. Cook has led Nebraska to the NCAA semifinals in four straight years from 2015-2019, winning two NCAA Championships along the way (2015, 2017). He has 765 career wins, 604 at Nebraska, and is the fifth-winningest coach in NCAA history.

Cook and the Cornhuskers are off to another great start as they continue to sit atop the national rankings as they started off conference play 10-0. However, Nebraska has dropped three of its last four to ranked opponents.

Players to know

Senior setter Nicklin Hames, 5-foot-10, No. 1 — Hames has been a pillar for this program over the last four years. She has been on a tear the last two years, earning AVCA All-American Second Team (2020), All-Big Ten First Team (2019, 2020), and AVCA All-North Region (2019, 2020). Hames is having another phenomenal year as she is fifth in the Big Ten in assists per set (10.50). She also leads her team in service aces (24), is second in digs (239) and sixth in blocks (33).

Junior outside hitter Madi Kubik, 6-foot-3, No. 10 — The former 2019 AVCA North Region Freshman of the Year has been one of the main offensive weapons for Nebraska since joining the program. Kubik earned AVCA All-American Honorable Mention and AVCA All-North Region in 2019 and 2020, finishing top-three on the team in kills in each of the last two years. She currently leads the team in kills (269), is fourth in service aces (13) and fifth in digs (150) and blocks (36).

Senior middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach, 6-foot-5, No. 25 — Schwarzenbach was a highly ranked recruit coming out of high school and is having the best season of her collegiate career. She is currently seventh in the Big Ten in blocks per set (1.26), fourth on her team in hitting percentage (.270), and seventh on her team in kills (58).

Strength

Defense. Nebraska is one of the most well-rounded defensive teams in the nation. The Cornhuskers rank second in the Big Ten in opponent hitting percentage (.156) and digs per set (16.67), third in opponent kills per set (11.44) and fifth in blocks per set (2.51).

Weakness

Offensive efficiency. Nebraska is virtually elite at every aspect of the game except for hitting percentage. The Cornhuskers are seventh in the Big Ten in hitting percentage at .228, a few ticks above Maryland’s .222 mark.

Three things to watch

1. Two standout freshmen liberos go head-to-head. Maryland’s Milan Gomillion and Nebraska’s Lexi Rodrigez have been two of the best liberos in the Big Ten as freshmen. Gomillion currently leads the Big Ten in digs per set (4.78), while Rodrigez is seventh (4.25).

2. Can Maryland get back to its identity? Maryland had its worst defensive game of the season against Michigan, recording zero blocks and it allowed the Wolverines to tally 43 kills on a .404 hitting percentage. The Terps cannot afford to have another poor performance like this or they will be at risk of being swept for the second game in a row.

“We’ve got to get back to playing our style,” head coach Adam Hughes said. “I didn’t think we blocked particularly well on Friday night, and obviously we were not really good (on Sunday), so we’re gonna have to get back to our basics.”

3. Can Maryland take advantage of Nebraska’s recent struggles? Nebraska has lost three of its last four games, getting swept in two of those. While the Cornhuskers have lost to very worthy opponents in then-No. 3 Wisconsin, then-No. 11 Minnesota and then-No. 7 Ohio State, these losses must have had an impact on the team’s overall confidence.