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Maryland volleyball vs. No. 24 Illinois preview

Maryland will look to build off its most recent win over Northwestern.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

After being upset by Iowa in four sets, Maryland volleyball bounced back by taking down Northwestern in five sets. Maryland snapped its four-game losing streak Friday night with a win over the Wildcats.

Maryland led nearly all of the first set, but a late 4-1 run by the Wildcats gave the Terps a late-set scare. Northwestern started out the second set strong with a 10-5 lead, but Maryland crawled all the way back to win set two 25-23, capped off by a 6-1 run.

The third set was very back and forth as each team continued to trade runs. Northwestern avoided the sweep with a 28-26 third set win. The Wildcats dominated the fourth set early, jumping to a 13-5 lead. Maryland was able to come within two, but Northwestern pulled through for a 25-21 victory. The fifth set was neck and neck until a 4-0 Maryland run broke things open to secure a 15-12 win.

Middle blocker Rainelle Jones came up big in this one, recording 12 kills, four blocks, and a .346 hitting percentage.

Maryland will now take on Illinois who is fresh off of a three-set win over Indiana. The Fighting Illini finished the night with 41 kills on a .309 hitting percentage.

Maryland’s Sunday afternoon game will be streamed on BTN Plus at 1 p.m.

No. 24 Illinois Fighting Illini (18-10, 10-7 Big Ten)

2020-21 record: 7-11 (7-11 Big Ten)

Head coach Chris Tamas is in the midst of his fifth season as head coach of Illinois’ volleyball program after being named to the position in 2017. Tamas has made the most of his four seasons in Champaign, Illinois, recording a 78-40 overall record and a 47-31 mark in the Big Ten, one of the toughest conferences in college volleyball. He has also led the Fighting Illini to three NCAA tournament appearances and is in a position to make it four this year.

Tamas and the Fighting Illini had one of the best seasons in program history in 2018, registering a 32-4 overall record and making an appearance in the Final Four. While Illinois isn’t having as good of a season, they will have the opportunity to make a postseason run if they can close out the season on a high note.

Players to know

Senior defensive specialist Taylor Kuper 5-foot-8, No. 3 — Kuper had a breakout year last season earning All-Region Honorable Mention, All-Big Ten First-Team, Big Ten Distinguished Scholar and won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week (4/5). She is having another fantastic season, ranking at the top of the Big Ten in multiple statistical categories. Kuper is fourth in the Big Ten in digs per set (4.54), fifth in the Big Ten in service aces per set (0.39), and second on her team in assists (106).

Sophomore outside hitter Raina Terry 6-foot-3, No. 12 — Terry had a solid freshman season being named Big Ten Freshman of the Week (3/22) and Illinois Oskees Freshman of the Year Nominee. She is having a much better season this year as she has become an elite server, ranking second in the Big Ten in service aces per set (0.45). Terry is also first on her team in kills (339), fourth in digs (211), and fifth in blocks (50) and assists (10).

Redshirt junior setter Diana Brown 6-foot-0, No. 5 — Brown has been a stud since first stepping onto the court for the Fighting Illini being named Big Ten All-Freshman Team and CoSIDA Academic All-District First-Team last year. She has been the Fighting Illini’s swiss army knife this year as she is seventh in the Big Ten in assists per set (10.08), second on her team in digs (244), third on her team in hitting percentage (.277), and fourth on her team in blocks (60).

Strength

Serving. Illinois is far and away the best serving team in the Big Ten. The Fighting Illini average 1.87 service aces per set, first in the Big Ten, and have totaled 195 on the season, 12th in the nation. Illinois has a clear identity that it will be sure to rely on in this one.

Weakness

Defense at the service line. Opposite to Maryland, Illinois has not played great defense at the net throughout this season. Illinois currently ranks 10th in the Big Ten in blocks per set (2.30) and eight in opponent hitting percentage (.198).

Three things to watch

1. Can Maryland polish up its offense? Despite taking the five-set match against Northwestern, the Terps were not great offensively. Maryland finished the night with 55 kills, 37 errors, and a .150 hitting percentage. The Terps will have to be much more efficient if they want to beat a very good Illinois team.

2. How will Maryland plan for Illinois’ elite serving attack? The Fighting Illini are the best serving team in the Big Ten and have two top-five servers in the conference. Freshman Milan Gomillion has been phenomenal this year at libero, but she and defensive specialist Kaylee Thomas will have their work cut out for them as they try to return these deadly serves.

3. Can Maryland defeat a worthy opponent? The Terps’ NCAA Tournament chances are narrowing, and if they want a shot at postseason play, it needs to come Sunday afternoon against Illinois. The Fighting Illini are currently ranked as the No. 24 team in the nation and a win over them would be a massive resume booster for the Terps.