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Maryland volleyball vs. No. 9 Minnesota preview

The Terps most recently upset the No. 2 ranked Wisconsin Badgers to remain undefeated.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland volleyball is traveling to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to face off against No. 9 Minnesota for its first Big Ten away game of the 2021 season.

Maryland just pulled off an unprecedented upset against the No. 2 ranked Wisconsin Badgers and is riding high on what has been a thrilling season thus far. The Terps defeated the Badgers in a five-set battle and are now 13-0 on the season and one win away from tying their 14-0 start in 2005.

Middle blocker Rainelle Jones was dominant against the Badgers, making their offense struggle at times. Jones had three kills and 11 blocks against Wisconsin on Friday night to help the Terps capture the upset. Outside hitters Sam Csire and Paula Neciporuka also combined for 32 kills, including five kills by Csire down the stretch in the fifth set. Setter Sydney Dowler was phenomenal as usual, putting up 38 assists, 13 digs, six blocks, and two service aces.

Maryland got its first-ever program win against Wisconsin and will look to do the same against Minnesota on Sunday afternoon.

The Terps’ game against Minnesota will be streamed on BTN Plus and will be at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

Let’s take a look at the Golden Gophers ahead of the matchup.

No. 9 Minnesota Golden Gophers 6-3, (1-0 Big Ten)

2020-21 record: 16-3, (15-2 Big Ten)

Head coach Hugh McCutcheon is in his tenth season as the leader of Minnesota’s volleyball program. McCutcheon led the Golden Gophers to a 15-2 record and Sweet 16 finish last season, losing in a heartbreaking five-set series. In 2019, the Golden Gophers were able to reach the Final Four, including a 27-6 record and a 17-3 conference notch.

The 2015 AVCA National Coach of the Year and Big Ten Coach of the Year continues to build Minnesota into a powerhouse, looking for his seventh straight NCAA tournament appearance.

The Golden Gophers are fresh off their first conference game, in which they won 3-2 against Michigan, and they will certainly be a tough challenge for the Terps. However, Maryland has already taken down what is presumably the Big Ten’s finest in No. 2 Wisconsin.

Players to know

Redshirt senior outside hitter Stephanie Samedy 6-foot-2, No. 10 — Maryland will face one of the nation’s best players for the second game in a row with Samedy. Samedy was the 2021 Senior CLASS Volleyball player of the year, the AVCA North Region and Big Ten Player of the Year (2020-21), AVCA First-Team All-American (2017, 2018, 2020-21) and First-Team All-Big Ten (2017-21). This year seems to be another dominant year for Samedy as she is fifth in the nation in kills per set (5.07), second on her team in digs (99) and third on her team in hitting percentage (.266).

Redshirt senior middle blocker Katie Meyers 6-foot-2, No. 23 — Meyers is a familiar face to the Terps as she spent four years in College Park. Her last season at College Park she was spectacular, averaging 1.29 blocks per set and a .395 hitting percentage, good enough to earn her First-Team All-Big Ten honors. This season Meyers leads the team in blocks (34), has the second-best hitting percentage (.288), and is fourth on the team in service aces (5).

Sophomore setter Melani Shaffmaster, 6-foot-3, No. 5 — Similar to Maryland, Minnesota has a standout sophomore setter in Shaffmaster. As a freshman, Shaffmaster earned a spot on the AVCA All-Region and Freshman All-Big Ten teams. Shaffmaster is fifth in the Big Ten in assists per set (10.59), first on her team in service aces (12), and third on her team in digs (81) this season.

Strength

Returning serves. Minnesota’s biggest strength is off of the serve. The Golden Gophers are first in the Big Ten in digs per set (16.27), fifth in the Big Ten in service aces per set (1.60), and third in the Big Ten in opponent service aces per set (0.86).

Weakness

Service line woes. The Golden Gopher’s biggest weakness is their inefficiency at the service line. The Golden Gophers rank ahead of only four other teams in the Big Ten in terms of hitting percentage and opponent hitting percentage with .237 and .178, respectively.

Three things to watch

1. Will the Terps be able to contain Samedy? Samedy is one of the best offensive players in the nation, ranking fifth in kills per set. Despite winning Friday night’s match, middle blocker Dana Rettke abused Maryland’s defense, putting up 20 kills and a .500 hitting percentage. If the Terps let Samedy have her way, they may not be so lucky.

2. How will Minnesota fair on offense? As previously mentioned, the Golden Gophers aren’t great on either side of the service line, but Maryland is absolutely dominant on the defensive end. Coming into Friday night’s match, Wisconsin had the best hitting percentage in the nation at .356, but the Terps were able to hold them to an underwhelming .196. If Maryland challenged the Badgers this much, how will Minnesota score consistently?

3. Can Maryland prove that defeating Wisconsin wasn’t a fluke? Despite its outstanding efforts against Wisconsin, Maryland still has doubters. If the Terps are able to upset another top-10 team, there will be no more excuses. Maryland was projected to be near the basement of the Big Ten at the start of the season, but the Terps have turned a fair amount of heads so far in 2021.