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Maryland volleyball rides hot start into Charm City Challenge

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The Terps have started the season 6-0 for the first time since 2017.

UMTerps

Maryland volleyball competes in its third nonconference tournament of the season this weekend at the Charm City Challenge, beginning Friday morning against Howard.

Through 21 sets, the Terps have only lost three, two of the losses coming in a fifth set win against Temple. The Terps were down 2-1 in the match and 14-12 in the fifth set but were able to dig deep and protect their perfect record.

The Terps went 3-0 at the Cherry and White Challenge, finishing the weekend with a 3-0 win over Iona, all of the sets being double-digit wins. Setter Sydney Dowler won Tournament MVP, while middle blocker Rainelle Jones and outside hitter Paula Neciporuka were both named to the All-Tournament First Team.

Defensive specialist/libero Milan Gomillion also received an honor, as she was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week.

Maryland will seek another undefeated weekend with the Charm City Challenge approaching.

Howard (2-4)

After an impressive 2019 season, which saw the Bison make an NCAA Tournament appearance, last season and the start to this one have been incredibly disappointing. After a 2-0 start, the Bison have dropped four straight.

The reason for this rough start could be attributed to the loss of outside hitter Marcelle Butler. She played in all 14 matches for the Bison and led the team in kills with 117.

However, the Bison have outside hitters Busisiwe Banda and Alex Smith returning to the lineup this season after not playing last season.

Howard also has a ton of incoming talent, including seven incoming freshmen, one transfer student, and a sophomore who is playing her first season of collegiate volleyball after sitting out last season.

Freshman outside hitter Bria Woodard has arguably been the Bison’s best player in her first two weeks, recording 58 kills and 56 digs, the most on the team.

Howard defeated Maryland in a five-set match in 2019, so Friday morning will be the Terps’ redemption match.

Quinnipiac (1-5)

Quinnipiac has not had a winning season since 2016, and this year does not seem to be any different. The Bobcats started the season on the right foot with a five-set win over Holy Cross, but have only won three sets in five matches since.

Quinnipiac did lose three valuable seniors from last year’s roster, including outside hitters Haley Anderson and Morgan Sherwin, and middle blocker Gabrielle Horman.

Anderson was third on the team in digs per set (3.14), while Sherwin was fourth on the team in digs (67) and third in kills (61) and blocks (14). Horman may have been the biggest loss, however, as she was second on the team in service aces (10) and blocks (17) and fifth on the team in kills (32).

Despite these losses, Quinnipiac was able to bring in a pair of very talented freshmen, middle blocker Alexandra Tennon and libero/defensive specialist Fa’avae Kimsel-Moe.

Tennon leads the team in blocks (14) and is sixth on the team in kills (14). Kimsel-Moe offers the Bobcats a different skill set as she leads the team in digs (74), is second on the team in service aces (5), and third in assists (8).

Maryland has only played Quinnipiac once before. That unfamiliarity could work in the Bobcats’ favor.

UMBC (1-7)

After a solid 2020-21 season, which saw UMBC finish 11-4 and reach the NCAA tournament, the Retrievers have had a very rocky start to the 2021 season.

Despite the majority of their players returning and adding seven new pieces, the Retrievers have looked unrecognizable thus far.

UMBC did lose right side hitter Anouk Van Noord, who was named to the American East All-Conference First Team and led the conference in total kills (178).

However, defensive specialists Loren Tetes and Aysia Miller and middle blockers Beste Ayhan and Michela De Marzi were fantastic last year and all returned this year.

Tetes finished fourth in the conference in digs per set with 4.35, while Miller finished second in the conference in assists per set with 10.65. Ayhan finished second in the conference in blocks per set with 1.04 and De Marzi recorded a .354 hitting percentage, which led the conference.

Not to mention outside hitters Grace Rigsbee, Mia Bilusic, and Mila Ilieva, who have made immediate impacts on offense and defense.

Rigsbee is fourth on the team in kills and blocks per set, with 1.89 and 0.58, respectively. Bilusic is fourth on the team in digs (40) and blocks (12), and leads the team in kills (59). Ilieva is fourth in the team in kills (37) and leads the team in blocks (32).

It is puzzling why the Retrievers are playing so poorly this season and it will be interesting to see if they can turn things around.

Three things to watch

1. How will Sydney Dowler perform the rest of the season? Dowler continues to perform spectacularly and may be the most consistent player on this team. She received the Cherry and White Tournament MVP and is on pace for a top 10 single-season assist finish.

2. Will UMBC turn things around? UMBC had extremely high hopes coming into this season but has looked miserable starting the season at 1-7. With this much talent, the Retrievers are bound to improve and have a chance to prove themselves against an undefeated Maryland team this weekend.

3. Can the Terps stay on track? Maryland will have the opportunity to start the season with a perfect 9-0 record, and with their opponents having a combined four wins, it seems probable.