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Maryland volleyball weekend preview: Maryland Challenge

The Terps welcome Akron, Stony Brook and Columbia to College Park this weekend.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland volleyball finishes up its nonconference schedule this weekend in College Park, starting with a Friday night matchup against Akron to kick off the Maryland Challenge.

The Terps have started the season 9-0 and have only lost three sets.

Maryland won all nine sets at the Charm City Challenge in Baltimore last weekend, with all of the sets being won by seven or more points. Sophomore setter Sydney Dowler was yet again named the MVP of the tournament, while sophomore middle blocker Laila Ricks and outside hitter Paula Neciporuka found their way onto the All-Tournament First Team.

Defensive specialist/libero Milan Gomillion earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors for the second week in a row, recording 51 digs, three assists, and two service aces over the weekend.

With the Maryland Challenge quickly approaching, the Terps will have the opportunity to start the season 12-0, which would be their best start since 2005.

Akron (6-3)

2020 record: (6-16)

The Zips are arguably Maryland’s toughest opponent yet, with a record of 6-3. The two teams last met in 2018, where Coach Hughes and the Terps were able to pull out a three-set victory.

Akron only lost two seniors from last season’s team, but both were very important. Setter Taylor Kuruzovich finished second in assists (301) and service aces (25) and fourth in digs (112) for the Zips last season.

Outside hitter Shelby Fulmer was third on the team in blocks (44) and services aces (16) and second on the team in kills (176) and hitting percentage (.211), a section in which the Zips struggled heavily last season.

However, 13 players have returned to the roster this season, including graduate students Emily Weigand, Alexis Adelta, and Taylor Sharrits. Weigand and Adelta have combined for 17 blocks, 13 service aces, and 122 kills this season. Weigand is also second on the team in digs (83) and leads the team in assists (304).

Sharrits has been the backbone of this Akron squad for the last five seasons, playing in every single match, leading the team in digs, and being named a team captain for the fourth time this season. Sharrits won the 2020 Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year and finished regular season play ranking No. 1 in the NCAA in total digs last season.

The Zips also recruited four freshmen, including middle blocker Karleighana Jones who is fifth on the team in kills (32) and hitting percentage (.253) and third on the team in blocks (26)

This will be a fun match up to kick off the tournament on Friday night as the Terps will face a worthy and experienced opponent.

Stony Brook (4-7)

2020 record: (7-8)

Similar to Akron, Stony Brook and Maryland last faced off in 2018, where Maryland won the four-set match.

The Seawolves haven’t been very good since their 21-9 season in 2018, and this season hasn’t started off any different. After a rough 0-4 start, however, the Seawolves have gone a solid 4-3.

Stony Brook didn’t lose a single player from last year and added three freshmen. Freshman middle blocker Erin Garr has provided much-needed depth, tallying 23 kills and nine blocks in her first 11 games of collegiate volleyball.

The Seawolves’ offense is led by outside hitters Amiyah De’Long and Leoni Kunz who both have over 100 kills and a .199 hitting percentage. The duo combined for 94 total kills in the Stony Brook Invitational this past weekend.

On defense, the Seawolves are anchored by middle blockers Abby Camble and Enitan Omolewa and libero Kiani Kersetter. Camble and Omolewa have a combined 63 blocks, while Kersetter leads the team in digs with 121.

If the Terps can contain De’Long and Kunz, they should be able to pull this one out.

Columbia (2-4)

2020 record: season canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic

Without any games last season, the Lions haven’t necessarily started the season on a good note. After a 0-3 start, the Lions were able to win two out their last three, though.

The Lions’ roster looks extremely different from their 2019 team, but there are some familiar faces. Seniors Emily Teehan, Shari Stenglein, and Isa Lamus have all been important pieces for the Lions this year. Teehan is second in kills per set (3.13), Stenglein is second in digs (53) and Lamus leads the team in blocks (14).

Noelle Foster and Vanessa Pan have also returned. Foster is third on the team in blocks (12) and leads the team in kills (75). Pan leads the team in digs (90) and is second in assists (21).

Freshman setter Cadence Gronski has made an impact immediately, leading the team in assists (211) and ranking third in digs (51).

Columbia hasn’t had a great start to the season, but will have the opportunity to pull off an unprecedented upset against Maryland this weekend.

Three things to watch

1. Can Sydney Dowler do it again? Dowler has won back-to-back tournament MVPs and is the Terps’ most consistent player. She has recorded an absurd total of 229 assists, 49 digs, 15 kills and seven service aces over the last two weekends. The question becomes, can she do it again?

2. The Terps’ dominance at the net. Maryland has been absolutely dominant at the net thus far this season. A total of three Terps are among the top 10 for blocks per set in the Big Ten and rank fifth in the entire NCAA in blocks per set as a team.

3. Can Akron take down their toughest opponent yet? Coming into the Maryland Challenge, the Lions haven’t faced any team the same caliber as Maryland. Akron will have the opportunity to ruin the Terps’ perfect record on Friday night at 7 p.m.