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Maryland volleyball vs. No. 14 Penn State preview

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The Terps will take on Penn State for the first time this season.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland volleyball suffered its first loss of the season Sunday afternoon in three sets to No. 7 Minnesota, dropping to 13-1.

The Terps couldn’t seem to get anything going in the loss, losing by an average of 11.3 per set. Maryland had a combined hitting percentage of -.096, while Minnesota had a .302 hitting percentage and only four blocks.

Now, the Terps face another ranked opponent in No. 14 Penn State who just defeated then-No. 3 Ohio State in three sets.

Wednesday’s game against the Nittany Lions will start at 8 p.m. and will air on the Big Ten Network.

No. 14 Penn State Nittany Lions (9-3, 2-0 Big Ten)

2020 record: (10-6)

Head coach Russ Rose has been with the Nittany Lions for over four decades. Rose has a record-setting seven NCAA national titles and 17 Big Ten championships. Rose has also never posted less than 22 wins in a full season and his 1,309 career wins heading into 2021 are the most among NCAA Division I head coaches. Rose and the Nittany Lions made it to the Sweet Sixteen last year and the Elite Eight the year before, as they look to make another run this year.

Penn State has won both of its conference games and hasn’t lost a set since Sept. 11 when it fell to then-No. 14 Stanford.

Player to know

Jonni Parker, senior outside hitter, 6-foot (No. 9) - Parker has been the Nittany Lions kill leader for the past three years and is on pace to do it again. She is a three-time AVCA All-American, All-Northeast Region selection, and All-Big Ten honoree (2018-2020). Parker is also seventh in the Big Ten in kills per set (3.69) and third on her in assists (25), service aces (7), and blocks (37).

Kaitlyn Hord, senior middle blocker, 6-foot-4 (No. 23) - Hord has been one of the best and most consistent middle blockers in the nation for the last few years. She has won three All-American awards, named to three All-Northeast Region teams, and was a member of the first-team All-Big Ten in 2019 and 2020 and the second-team in 2018. Hord is fourth in the nation in blocks per set (1.76) and fourth on her team in kills (87) and hitting (.366).

Erika Pritchard, graduate student outside hitter, 6-foot-3 (No. 5) - Former Maryland volleyball cornerstone Erika Pritchard will make her return to College Park on Wednesday night. With the Terps, Pritchard earned one AVCA All-Region award in 2018, a 2018 and 2020 All-Big Ten First-Team nod, and finished her four years second on Maryland’s career kill list. This season, Pritchard is third on the team in kills (88), second in service aces (10), and fourth in blocks (22).

Gabby Blossom, senior setter, 5-foot-9 (No. 13) — Blossom has also been a very important part of the Nittany Lions over the last few years. She was third-team AVCA All-American in 2019 and second-team All-Big Ten in 2019 and 2020. Blossom is having another great year, as she is seventh in the Big Ten in assists per set (10.26), leads her team in service aces (15), and is second in digs (93).

Strength

Offense at the service line. Penn State’s biggest strength is its strong offense at the service line. The Nittany Lions currently average 13.97 kills per set and a .303 hitting percentage, good for 23rd and eighth in the nation, respectively.

Weakness

Digs per game. Penn State doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses, as many top 15 teams don’t, but, they only average 12.46 digs per game, which only ranks ahead of Northwestern in the Big Ten, and allow a .180 hitting percentage, 11th in the Big Ten.

Three things to watch

1. Penn State’s hot streak. The Nittany Lions have won their last four games and haven’t lost a set in the process. Penn State most recently knocked off then-No. 3 Ohio State in three sets, moving them up six spots in the national rankings. The Nittany Lions are playing extremely well right now, and Maryland has a tough task ahead.

2. Can Maryland reverse its offensive struggles? The Terps have struggled heavily on the offensive end in their last two matches, netting a combined .068 hitting percentage. If Maryland isn’t able to make significant changes in this match, it could find themselves losing their second straight.

3. How will Sam Csire bounce back against the Nittany Lions? Csire was coming off an incredible 17-kill match against Wisconsin but wasn’t able to figure things out against Minnesota, only totaling four kills and a -.303 hitting percentage. When Csire is going, so are the Terps, so it is essential that she bounces back in a major way if the Terps want a chance against Penn State.