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Maryland volleyball vs. Northwestern preview (part two)

The Terps are seeking their first win in November.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

After getting swept by Michigan and Nebraska in back-to-back games, Maryland volleyball hoped to bounce back against an inferior Iowa team last Saturday. Maryland failed to break its three-game losing streak, however, falling to Iowa in four sets on the road.

The Terps started out strong, winning the first set for the first time in three games, but things didn’t get better for Maryland from that point on, as it dropped the next three. The second set was very close throughout, but a 3-0 run helped Iowa shut the door. Maryland was up for almost the entire third set, even holding a 23-20 lead, but was unable to score when it counted as Iowa secured the 27-25 win with a 7-2 run. The fourth set was very similar to the second set, but with the score sitting at 21-22, the Terps could only muster up one more point en route to the loss.

Outside hitters Sam Csire and Paula Neciporuka carried the offensive load for the Terps, combining for 34 kills, two service aces and seven blocks. Middle blocker Rainelle Jones also had a great game despite the loss, recording nine kills, seven blocks and a .300 hitting percentage.

Maryland’s upcoming opponent, Northwestern, is coming off of two consecutive four-set losses against ranked opponents in Ohio State and Wisconsin. The Wildcats won the first set against Ohio State 25-21 but lost the next three, including a 25-16 loss in the fourth set. Northwestern won the first set again against Wisconsin but wasn’t able to capitalize.

Maryland’s Friday night game against the Wildcats will be aired on Big Ten Plus at 8 p.m.

What happened last time

These two teams last met earlier this season on Oct. 8. Maryland was looking to end its three-game losing streak at the time and was playing its first unranked opponent of conference play. Northwestern was 1-3 in conference play just like Maryland, with its only win coming against an underwhelming Rutgers team.

The first set was highly competitive, but with the score tied at 21, the Wildcats squeaked out the win on a 4-2 run. Maryland got off to a hot start in the second, attaining an 18-11 lead. Northwestern made things close late, but Setter Sydney Dowler and Csrie closed out the set with two kills to win 25-19.

It was Northwestern who got the early lead in the third, going up 12-6. The Wildcats held this lead until a 4-0 Maryland run tied the set at 23. Northwestern was able to pull at the win, however, scoring the next two points. The Wildcats seized control yet again in the fourth, jumping to a 7-2 advantage. Maryland quickly erased this deficit with an 8-1 run, gaining a two point lead. The Terps continued to expand upon this lead, winning the fourth set 25-16.

The fifth and final set was a battle with each team constantly trading blows. After Maryland went up 15-14, the Wildcats ripped off a 3-0 run to steal the match in five sets.

Jones had one of her best games of the season, finishing the night with 14 kills, eight blocks, and a .448 hitting percentage. Middle blocker Laila Ricks also played very efficiently, tallying eight kills, eight blocks and a .400 hitting percentage.

What’s happened since

Following Maryland’s heartbreaking loss to Northwestern, the Terps began to get back on track, winning four of their next five. The Terps took care of business against Indiana, winning two of the three sets by eight or more points.

Maryland then took on Michigan, losing to them in five sets in both of its matches last year. The Terps didn’t put up quite the same fight in this one, losing in three sets. After Michigan State took the first set relatively easily, the Terps won out, winning the match in four sets.

Then, the Terps swept Rutgers at College Park, however, all three sets were decided by five points or less.

Michigan State came up next and had another shot at the Terps, but the result was the same as Maryland won in four sets.

The Terps have now hit a rough patch, losing five of their last six.

Maryland was swept by Penn State and then swept Rutgers immediately after for the second time this year. After starting out sluggish against Purdue, the Terps upped their play, but it was too little, too late, losing in four sets. The Terps were then swept in back-to-back matches against Michigan and then Nebraska, showing very little resistance.

Maryland is now coming off its worst loss of the season, losing to a four-win Iowa team in four sets.

Northwestern went on to lose four of its next six games against Penn State, Minnesota, Illinois, and Purdue. The Wildcats' only two wins were against Iowa, defeating them in three sets and then four sets. More recently, Northwestern has lost three of its last four, two against Wisconsin and one against Ohio State. Similar to their last stretch of games, the Wildcats beat Indiana twice in four sets.

Three things to watch

1. Can Maryland limit the Wildcats’ offense? The last time these two teams faced off, Northwestern dominated Maryland in nearly every aspect offensively. The Wildcats had seven more points, 13 more kills, one more service ace, and six more assists. While the Terps did hold Northwestern to a .188 hitting percentage, they will have to do more if they want to come out on top of this one.

2. With both teams on losing streaks, who will persevere? Northwestern is currently facing a two-game losing streak, while Maryland is on a four-game losing streak. With each team struggling, they will both have to have a short-term memory as this is truly anyone’s game to win come Friday.

3. Can Maryland recover after suffering its worst loss of the season? The Terps are coming off a tough four-set loss against a team that was 2-13 in conference play and 4-21 overall. This was supposed to be a cakewalk for Maryland and a match that would break its three-game losing streak, giving the Terps a boost of confidence entering the final stretch of the season. This didn’t happen, however, as the Terps allowed 69 kills on a .278 hitting percentage against one of the worst offenses in the Big Ten. Maryland will need to dramatically improve its play if they want to defeat a Northwestern team that has already beat them once this season.