Maryland came out firing in the first weekend of the regular season, only losing one set in three matches, which resulted in three wins.
After last season without nonconference games, head coach Adam Hughes reiterated how important these games are.
“The one thing that nonconference can do is help you kind of learn a little bit about your lineup,” Hughes said. “It can allow you to get some challenges to see if you can overcome them before you get into Big Ten play, and so we’re happy to have those back this year.”
With there being no nonconference games last year, the tight schedule is unique to the relatively young team as they will play three games in the span of roughly 30 hours again this weekend.
“One of the challenges that comes with (nonconference games) is load management, you’re playing a lot more matches than you normally do,” Hughes said. “Even our freshmen from last year didn’t get to go through a preseason.”
Maryland begins the tournament with a Friday double header, LIU at 1 p.m. and Temple at 7 p.m., before closing the tournament on Saturday at 5 p.m. against Iona.
Here’s what to expect.
LIU Brooklyn Sharks
2021: 0-3 (8-6, 2020-21)
The Sharks have gotten off to a rough start in 2021, losing all three of their games.
Unlike Maryland, LIU only lost one graduating senior from the 2020-21 roster. Middle blocker Kristina Mamic was fourth on the team in blocking percentage (0.223) and first in total blocks (44) and blocks per set (1.07).
LIU’s roster is extremely young with 10 underclassmen returning from the 2020-21 roster, including outside hitter Karolina Nova and middle blocker Miranda Strongman who were extremely impressive in their sophomore seasons.
Nova recorded 15 service aces and 170 digs, good for second on the team, in combination with her team best 4.04 kills per set. Strongman finished second on the team in blocks (33) and hitting percentage (2.69) and third in kills per set (1.91).
Graduate student Jovana Stekovic is also returning to LIU. At outside hitter Stekovic was able to rack in over 160 kills and digs last year for the Sharks last year.
The Sharks have also brought in a massive recruiting class of eight new freshmen, one being Katie Berg who is leading the team in blocks with four.
The Sharks had a challenging schedule this past weekend, resulting in their 0-3 start. It will be interesting to see if they can bounce back this weekend with a lighter schedule.
2021: 1-2 (11-6, 2020-21)
The Owls are coming off their first winning season in three years. Similar to LIU, Temple only lost one key piece to their team.
Setter Tyler Lindgren played in all 63 sets for the Owls, leading the team in assists (649) and assists per set (10.3). Lindgren added 158 digs and a .266 hitting percentage.
Temple is bringing back a number of important players including outside hitters Katerina Papazoglou, Gem Grimshaw, and Miray Bolukbasi who were the top three kill leaders for the Owls last year with 111, 202, and 212, respectively.
Papazoglou has been a very consistent player over the last few years and finished second in service aces (14) and fourth in digs (120).
Grimshaw led the team in service aces (19) and finished second in digs (164) and blocks (42).
Four new freshmen have joined the Owls, two of which have made an immediate impact. Setter Patrycja Zielinska had 100 of the team’s 115 assists, 14 digs, and five blocks, while middle blocker Chelci Banks contributed 10 kills and four blocks last weekend.
With this much returning talent the Owls should be an improved team this year.
2021: 1-2 (3-7, 2020-21)
The Gaels have a combined 8-30 record over the last few years, after a NCAA Tournament appearance in 2018.
Iona graduated two very important seniors in defensive specialist/libero Taylor Cole and outside hitter Jamie Smith. The duo led the team in digs and service aces with a combined 258 and 31. Cole also finished fourth in assists (26), and Smith led the team in kills (102) and finished third in blocks (27).
The Gaels retained the majority of their roster, over 300 total kills, assists and digs, who will need to take a step up in order to replace Cole and Smith’s production.
Iona welcomed six new faces this year who will provide depth to a team that needs it.
Three things to watch
1. Milan Gomillion’s stellar play as of late. Gomillion has filled the hole left by defensive specialist/libero Hailey Rubino perfectly, averaging an absurd 5.0 digs per set this past weekend. This is unreal play coming from a freshman and it will be interesting to see if she can sustain this level of play.
2. The talented sophomore trio on Maryland’s roster. The sophomore trio of Sam Csire, Sydney Dowler, and Lalia Ricks have carried this team thus far. Csire leads the team in kills (38), Dowler leads the team in assists (105) and Ricks is second in blocks (14). If these three are on, the Terps will have a tough time losing.
3. Can Iona return to 2018 form? Iona was phenomenal in 2018, finishing with a 20-8 record and reaching the NCAA Tournament. To say the Gaels have been disappointing the last few seasons is an understatement, but with the majority of last year’s roster returning, they are definitely a team to keep an eye on.