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Maryland volleyball vs. No. 2 Wisconsin preview

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Both teams are undefeated as each program enters Big Ten play.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland volleyball kicks off Big Ten play with perhaps its most challenging opponent of the season, as it welcomes No. 2 Wisconsin to College Park.

Maryland recently showed out yet again at the Maryland Challenge, sweeping Akron, Stony Brook and Columbia with ease last weekend. The Terps have started an impressive 12-0, their best start since 2005, and haven’t lost a single set since Sep. 3 in their five-set win over Temple.

Setter Sydney Dowler has recorded 431 assists so far this season and is leading Maryland in that category this season. Dowler has also brought home two tournament MVPs in nonconference play.

Defensive specialist/libero Milan Gomillion has won Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors twice during nonconference play as well. Gomillion leads the Big Ten in 5.21 digs per set, being a big reason why the Terps are off to such a hot and somewhat unexpected start.

Maryland is a career 0-9 against Wisconsin, with the Badgers winning the last meeting between both these teams by a score of 3-0 in 2019.

Friday’s game will start at 7 p.m. and will air on BTN Plus.

No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers

2021 record: 8-0 (Big Ten)

Head coach Kelly Sheffield has put Wisconsin’s volleyball program among the elite in his eight-year tenure. Sheffield has had eight straight NCAA Sweet 16-or-better tournament finishes, including a championship game appearance in 2019.

The 2019 Big Ten Coach of the Year has a 203-50 record with the Badgers, and made the NCAA tournament for the last 15 years and is on pace to continue this streak.

The Badgers are yet again among the best teams in the nation, with an 8-0 record, but will take on their best opponent yet with Maryland.

Players to know

Dana Rettke, graduate student middle blocker, 6’8 (No. 16) - Rettke has been one of the nation's best volleyball players since hitting the floor as a freshman, earning AVCA First-Team All-American every single year. Rettke was also named the 2019-20 Big Ten Female Athlete of the Year for her dominance in Wisconsin’s NCAA championship runner-up season. Rettke is as dominant as ever, leading the Badgers in kills (85) and blocks (34) and leading the nation in hitting percentage with an astonishing 56.9%.

Sydney Hilley, graduate student setter, 6’0 (No. 2) - Like Rettke, Hilley has been a pillar for Wisconsin the last few years, earning AVCA First-Team All-American honors in 2019 and 2020. Hilley is second in the nation in assists per set (11.81) while contributing in a multitude of other ways as well. Hilley is third on the team in blocks (18) and digs (60) and fifth on the team in service aces (5) and hitting percentage (.375).

Lauren Barnes, graduate student defensive specialist/libero, 5’6 (No. 1) - Barnes has been extremely reliable for the Badgers since transferring from Minnesota in 2019. Barnes leads the team in digs (87), is second in assists (10), and third in service aces (9). She also earned 2020 Second-Team All-American honors and strives for that first-team nod this year.

Danielle Hart, redshirt senior middle blocker, 6’4 (No. 18) - Hart and Rettke form a frightening duo at the net, each bringing in over 1.15 blocks per set. Hart earned a spot on the Second-Time All-Big Ten in 2019 and 2020 and is fourth in the Big Ten in hitting percentage (.427).

Strength

Offense. Wisconsin is one of the nation's best offensive teams and multiple stats back that up. The Badgers rank fifth in the nation in assists per set (13.3) and kills per set (14.5). The Badgers also own the best hitting percentage (.356), while ranking 18th in service aces per set (2.0).

Weakness

Ability to dig on defense. For a team this good, it’s hard to nit-pick virtually any aspect of their game, but if there was one thing that they aren’t great at, it’s their defense off of the net. The Badgers only total 13.3 digs per set, which is by no means bad but isn’t up to par with the rest of the aspects of their game.

Three things to watch

1. A battle at the net. As previously mentioned, Wisconsin and Maryland are the nation's two best teams at the net, but on opposite sides. Wisconsin leads the nation in hitting percentage (.356), while Maryland leads in opponent hitting percentage (.097). It will be interesting to see how these teams adjust to each other’s strengths.

2. Can Rainelle Jones continue her dominance against an offensive powerhouse? Wisconsin is not only one of the best teams in the nation, but absolutely dominant on offense. Jones has been one of the best middle blockers in the nation, leading the nation in blocks per set (2.06). Jones and the 6’8 Rettke will be a fun matchup to watch as they will battle at the net for every point.

3. How will Maryland start its Big Ten campaign? The Terps have started the season with their best record since 2005 at 12-0. If Maryland wants to reach the NCAA Tournament, it will have to perform exceptionally well in these Big Ten matchups, and that starts with Wisconsin on Friday night as it seeks its first win ever against the Badgers.