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Maryland volleyball weekend preview: No. 13 Penn State and Northwestern

Maryland is riding a three-match winning streak.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

The rush of players onto the court, shrieking in joy, and silence from the opposing fans set the scene on Sunday after Maryland volleyball shocked the ninth-ranked Purdue Boilermakers for the team’s first top 10 road win since joining the Big Ten.

It was a great weekend for the Terps, who went 2-0 to extend their win streak to three games — all in conference play. Friday’s game against Northwestern started off the weekend on a high note, as Maryland defeated the Wildcats in straight sets. Then, Sunday’s matchup against Purdue was the team’s best game of the season, also making a statement by winning in three sets. Maryland is now 12-8 overall and 3-5 in conference play.

Looking to keep the winning streak alive, the Terps will play two games this weekend. On Friday, they play their second ranked opponent in a row in College Park, taking on No. 13 Penn State at 8 p.m. Sunday’s matinee is an almost instant rematch, as Maryland takes on Northwestern for the second time in two weeks at 8 p.m.


No. 13 Penn State (15-4, 4-4 Big Ten)

Head coach Katie Schumacher-Cawley won a national championship as a player for the Nittany Lions, and in her first year as a head coach she’s gotten off to a great start at her alma mater. After spending four years as an assistant, she has immediately led the team to ranked status after making the NCAA Tournament the last four years. Unlike Maryland, Penn State has lost to every ranked Big Ten opponent it has faced so far, but a 15-1 record in all other competitions make the Nittany Lions a daunting opponent. If the season continues like it’s been going, the team from Happy Valley will likely make its fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

Player to watch

Junior middle blocker Allie Holland has been having a great season as an offensive and especially defensive player for Penn State. Her blocking ability is amongst the elite in the conference, currently averaging the seventh-most blocks per set in the Big Ten (1.40). She also has the third-most points on the team this season, averaging 2.03 kills per set on an efficient .320 hitting percentage. Maryland might have some impressive middle blockers of its own, but Holland is someone to keep an eye on for Friday’s game.

Northwestern (13-7, 2-6 Big Ten)

What’s happened since the last matchup

After falling to Maryland, 3-0, last Friday, the Wildcats have only played once: a matchup against No. 3 Nebraska in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers absolutely dominated Northwestern from start to finish, winning 3-0 for the team’s second straight loss in straight sets. Despite only losing the first set by two, Northwestern couldn’t find a lead in the next two sets, losing by an average of 8 points. Freshman Kathryn Randorf had 11 kills, but it wasn’t enough to stop one of the best teams in the country. The Wildcats still have a record of 13-7, and can easily have an above-.500 record if they get a few more wins under their belt.

Three things to watch

1. Can Sydney Dowler keep up her recent form? She hasn’t been one of the more talked about players on the Maryland roster, but the junior setter has been doing her job well over the last few games. Her assist numbers have been astounding, averaging 8.70 assists per set — seventh-best in the Big Ten. Without her, who knows what the team would look like in the assists department. Maryland currently ranks last in the Big Ten in assists per set with 10.28, meaning the team only averages less than two assists per set without Dowler on the court. She’s also leading the team and the conference in service aces this season with 34, performing in more ways than one on offense. It’ll be interesting to see if she can keep playing like this over the weekend.

2. Will the win streak extend through this weekend? It’s safe to say that the Terps’ recent win streak has effectively kept Maryland’s season alive heading into a tough portion of the conference schedule. But, three wins in a row could jump to five if the Terps are able to go undefeated this weekend. No. 13 Penn State will definitely be a challenge, but having just beat a top 10 opponent, it’s not impossible that Maryland can pull off another upset. Having just beat Northwestern in straight sets, it’s also likely that they can pull off another win on Sunday. If Maryland is able to keep the streak alive, it will have just two fewer conference wins than it did all of last season. It’s safe to say there’s hope in College Park at the moment.

3. Can Laila Ivey continue to provide more offense? Ivey’s been one of the best offensive players on the team this season, and the freshman outside hitter has been especially critical over the team’s recent unbeaten run. She had 12 kills against Rutgers, 10 kills against Northwestern and 10 kills against Purdue to help out junior outside hitter Sam Csire on the kills front. Averaging 2.69 kills per set, it’s clear that Ivey will have to be consistent in getting double-digit kills in order for Maryland to keep winning this season.