Getting out of a losing streak is not an easy task for a volleyball team in the Big Ten, but Maryland volleyball was able to do so last weekend with a win over Rutgers.
The Terps went 1-1 on the weekend, splitting a pair of conference matchups. On Friday, they matched up with Illinois for the second time this season and lost again, this time in straight sets. Sunday’s game was the beginning of the team’s stretch of three straight road games, and Maryland made a statement by beating Rutgers, 3-0. The team is now 1-5 in conference play and 10-8 overall.
This weekend, The Terps continue their play on the road hoping to spark the team’s second three-game winning streak of the season. Maryland plays Northwestern at 8 p.m. on Friday and on Sunday, they travel to play No. 9 Purdue at 1 p.m.
Head coach Shane Davis hasn’t had the smoothest ride as head coach of the Wildcats since arriving in 2015, not finishing a single season with more wins than losses. But, 2022 is looking like a turnaround year for his program, with the team starting the season with an 11-1 nonconference record. Even though the Wildcats still have to play through the tough Big Ten, it’s clear that his freshman recruiting class — ranked seventh in the nation — is having an impact, as Northwestern currently leads the conference in kills and assists. If it can get a few more wins this season, the fans in Evanston could finally have a season to remember.
Player to watch
Junior middle blocker Leilani Dodson is doing the most with her touches this season to help Northwestern on offense. She ranks second in the conference in hitting percentage (.385) and has the fourth-most kills in the squad. While she may only be averaging 0.81 blocks per set, it’s not been that big of a problem so far. Everyone on the squad with more kills than her has a hitting percentage at least .110 lower than her, so it’s clear that her lack of wastefulness makes her a threat in front of the net.
No. 9 Purdue (14-2)
Head coach Dave Shondell is part of the reason why the Big Ten is such a powerhouse in NCAA volleyball. The reigning Big Ten Coach of the Year has been leading the Boilermakers for 20 years and has led them to the NCAA Tournament 16 times. This year looks to be no different, as his team started off the year ranked in the top five nationally. However, a tough 3-1 loss to No. 8 Wisconsin on Sunday hurt Purdue in the rankings. The Boilermakers will be looking to bounce back this weekend and show they can hang with any team in the Big Ten.
Player to watch
Freshman outside hitter Eva Hudson has had nothing short of a brilliant start to her collegiate career. At the moment, she is currently leading the Big Ten in kills per set (4.83) and points per set (5.38). Hudson reached the 21-kill mark in just two games, and she’s not being inefficient, posting a hitting percentage of .308 on the season. In just her first year of college, Hudson looks like she can make her mark at Purdue for years to come.
Three things to watch
1. Can Milan Gomillion get help in the digs department? So far this season, the sophomore defensive specialist has proved her worth as the Terps’ best player recording digs. She is averaging 3.51 digs per set, while no one else in the squad can even crack two per set. Gomillion’s average is good, but the Terps overall have the fewest digs per set in the conference at 11.96. There may be other things wrong with the squad, but it will be interesting to see if the nation’s best blocking team can start to play better defense further behind the net.
2. Can the Terps start to turn it around? The season isn’t over for Maryland volleyball at all with 14 games left to play in the regular season. But, eight of the team’s games to close out the season will come against opponents currently ranked in the top 15. Even if Maryland won all of its remaining games, it would finish the season at 16-16 — three fewer wins than last season. The time to start putting together wins is now, because it seems like the Terps will run into some national title contenders in near-postseason form going down the stretch this season.
3. Will the newcomers keep it up? It’s been a great first season in College Park for two players in particular: freshman outside hitter Laila Ivey and redshirt junior middle blocker Anastasia Russ. Ivey is second on the team in kills and has had double-digit kills in 11 games to begin her collegiate career. Russ has been a great help to graduate middle blocker Rainelle Jones at the middle blocker spot. She’s third in the Big Ten in hitting percentage (.375) and averages 1.37 blocks per set, which is the fifth-best in the conference. It remains to be seen if both of them can keep playing this well to close out the 2022 season.