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Maryland volleyball prepares for Maryland Invitational

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The Terps begin the 2021 season on Friday in College Park 

UMTerps

After a coronavirus-derailed season without nonconference games, Maryland volleyball is set to host the Maryland Invitational starting Friday night.

The Terps will face off against Virginia, Central Connecticut State and Hofstra in this year’s tournament.

Maryland seeks to continue its dominance over nonconference teams, 17-7 under head coach Adam Hughes, this weekend. Let’s take a closer look at their matchups.

Virginia
2020-21: 2-12 (0-11 ACC)

Maryland opens its 2021 season against a familiar face as the Terps and Cavaliers have played a total of 59 matches, the Terps coming out on top in 37 of those.

Virginia had a disappointing 2020-21 season which saw them finish with a 2-12 record, the second-worst in program history.

The Cavaliers come into the season with a revamped coaching staff as the previous regime was relieved of their duties last March. The program announced the hiring of Shannon Wells in late April, who spent the last seven years with the Florida Gators volleyball team.

Virginia lost five key seniors from the 2020-21 season. Defensive specialist/libero Alex Spencer, setter Megan Wilson, middle blocker Milla Ciprian, and outside hitters Christine Jarman and Sarah Billiard.

Spencer led the team in digs per set (4.71), while Wilson led the team in assists per set (9.04). Ciprian and Jarman contributed to the Cavaliers' offense immensely with over 130 combined kills.

Perhaps the most significant loss comes with Billiard, who led the team in kills per set (2.80) and service aces (13) while tallying 27 blocks, the second-most on the team.

Replacing those five will be difficult, but Virginia has a number of experienced players returning. Middle blocker Mattison Mathews finished with a .382 hitting percentage in 2019, the second-best in school history. Outside hitter Grace Turner is also coming back after recording 93 kills last season, the second best on the team.

The Cavaliers also have a number of incoming freshmen who should provide offensive and defensive depth.

With so many changing variables this year, it is anyone's best guess on how Virginia will perform this year.

Central Connecticut State
2020-21: 4-4 (4-4 NEC)

The Blue Devils have been a model of consistency, finishing at or above .500 each of the last five seasons, but have a record of 21-31 in nonconference games over that span.

Similar to Virginia, the Blue Devils lost four key seniors from the 2020-21 roster. Middle blocker Nicole Kramer was second on the team in both blocks (16) and blocks per set (0.73). The Blue Devils also lost defensive specialist/libero Ashlyn Eisenga, who led the team in digs (159) and finished top three in assists (19).

The departure of outside hitters Emma Henderson and Samantha McCreath is what hurts the Blue Devils the most. The duo combined for more than 170 kills and digs in last year’s shortened season. Henderson also led the team in service aces (11) and was named to the All-NEC second team for the third consecutive year.

The Blue Devils have six incoming freshmen this year, who will be relied upon heavily with the loss of so many important players.

Given the fact that this roster is extremely young, it is hard to imagine the Blue Devils making any substantial leaps from last year.

Hofstra
2020-21: 3-4 (0-4 CAA)

The Lions have been a very good team over the last decade, finishing with an above .500 record eight times and making it to the NCAA tournament in three of those years. In 2020-21, Hofstra took a slight step back, but given the circumstances, it is more than understandable.

Compared to Virginia and Central Connecticut State, who lost a lot of crucial pieces, the Lions retained most of their talent. Setter Mariana Volponi e Giordan and outside hitter Madeline Matheny transferred to the University of Louisiana Monroe and Seton Hall, respectively.

Volponi e Giordan was a solid rotational piece, who placed third on the team in assists (44). Matheny, on the other hand, started in four of her five matches played and recorded the third-most kills per set (2.47) and the highest hitting percentage (.296).

The Lions also lost senior libero Juliana Vaz. Vaz was the only Lion to play in every set, while contributing with the most digs (89), second-most service aces (5) and fourth-most assists (19).

Hofstra will welcome six newcomers to this season’s roster, five freshmen and one sophomore.

Sophomore transfer Yagmur Cinel may make the most immediate impact on all the new players. Cinel played 74 sets last season and totaled 143 kills, 30 digs, and 20 blocks from the outside hitter position.

How to watch

Maryland plays Virginia at 7 p.m. on Friday. On Saturday, the Terps will face Central Connecticut State at 1 p.m. followed by Hofstra at 7 p.m.

All three games can be viewed on BTN Plus.

Three things to watch

1. Will Sam Csire be able to lead the Terps offense? With the departure of dominant outside hitter Erika Pritchard, someone will have to lead the Terps offense. Csire was a highly recruited prospect last year and with one year under her belt, she seems to be the front runner for the role.

2. Will Virginia’s deep clean make a difference? Last year, the Cavaliers finished the unconventional season with an abysmal 2-12 record. As a result, they fired the entire coaching staff and hired longtime Gator, Shannon Wells. It will be interesting to see if this shake-up makes a much-needed difference.

3. Will the Lions bounce back? Hofstra has been a great team for the last 10 years, but last season they saw some regression. Was this just a fluke or is this a sign of things to come? That will be the question as the Terps see them in the final game of the tournament on Saturday night.