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Maryland volleyball weekend preview: Illinois and Rutgers

The Terps are still searching for their first conference win.

Mackenzie Miles/Maryland Terrapins

Usually, Maryland volleyball having the second-biggest crowd for a game at the XFINITY Center Pavilion in school history would be a weekend highlight for the school. But crowd size doesn’t win or lose games, especially against a top-10 team in the country.

The team finished the weekend 0-2 for the second consecutive week. On Friday, it took on Michigan State at home and fought to a fifth set. There wasn’t much gas left in the tank at the end, as Maryland lost the fifth set, 15-8, and the match, 3-2. Sunday’s matinee was a tough one against No. 3 Nebraska, and while the Terps managed to take a set, they ultimately were defeated, 3-1. Maryland has now started the Big Ten schedule winless at 0-4.

Looking to break the team’s losing streak, Maryland will take on Illinois on Friday at home at 7 p.m. before the start of a three-game road period which starts in New Jersey on Sunday at 1 p.m. against Rutgers.


Illinois Fighting Illini (7-7)

Last matchup: Beat Maryland, 3-1, on Sept. 23

What’s happened since

Illinois has played three games since the team matched up with the Terps a few weeks ago. In those games, the Illini have gone 1-2, beating Northwestern and dropping matches to both No. 5 Purdue and No. 7 Wisconsin.

The game against the Wildcats was a breeze for the Fighting Illini, sweeping Northwestern in three sets with a team hitting percentage of .261. Junior outside hitter Raina Terry led the way with 14 kills.

The game against Purdue was a tough one, going to a fifth-set tiebreak after Illinois had been up 2-0. But Illinois was outlasted in the fifth set, 16-14, as it would go on to lose, 3-2. The team took on Wisconsin three days later, and it was another heartbreaker. The match went to a fifth set, and the Fighting Illini had nothing left to give and lost the game, 3-2. Losing two straight five-setters to two top-10 teams in the nation shows just how strong this conference is. Illinois may be sitting at .500, but it’s a team to watch out for in the conference, something which Maryland fans certainly understand.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (7-9)

Head coach Caitlin Schweihofer decided to try building up a Big Ten program in 2020, moving from Northeastern to Rutgers to attempt to kickstart a new era in Piscataway. Joining the bottom of a stacked conference right before COVID definitely has not been easy for the coach so far. She won a combined 14 games in her first two years at the helm, and it clearly wasn’t the easiest adjustment. But, Rutgers has started this season off with seven wins already, and will now look to see if it can conquer a conference schedule in the Big Ten. The foundation is being laid for the program it seems, but the team will need to add some bricks this season in order for success to take place in the future.

Player to watch

Junior middle blocker Tina Grkovic has clearly made a leap in her development early into her first season as an upperclassman. After having 92 kills all season in 2021, she already has 120 kills to start off her 2022 campaign. Amongst everyone on her team with over 20 kills, Grkovic leads all with a .298 hitting percentage. She leads the team in blocks per set on the defensive end with 1.16, showing that the middle blocker can get it done in more ways than one. She is a player for Maryland head coach Adam Hughes to watch in front of the net.

Three things to watch

1. Will Rainelle Jones set the program blocks record? While many thought that the queen of blocks in college volleyball would break her program’s record for total blocks against Nebraska on Sunday, Jones managed to fall just one block shy of tying the record — two of breaking it. She currently leads the country in blocks per set with 1.73, after leading the country last season as well. It’s clear that Jones will most likely break the record this weekend, and it’ll be a historic moment to look out for.

2. Will Maryland learn from previous mistakes against Illinois? When these two teams met at the start of the Big ten conference schedule a few weeks ago, it wasn’t the closest game. The Terps lost two sets by eight or more points and had a collective hitting percentage of .131. Illinois out-killed Maryland by 18 and out-assisted the Terps by 21. Maryland managed to win one set, and lose the other by just two points, but it’s clear that the game plan needs to be switched up for round two.

3. Can Maryland find wins in a stacked Big ten conference schedule? Obviously, starting off the season with an 0-4 conference record was not something that Hughes envisioned. But now that the team finds itself in this position, it’s hard not to look in the near future to see where wins can be picked up. The Terps don’t play a ranked opponent for another four matches, when they take on No. 5 Purdue. Until then, they rematch with Illinois and take on Rutgers and Northwestern away from home. If the Terps can start racking up wins now, they can build momentum toward some of the bigger games they have later in the season and make a push within the conference. Hughes will hope they can get out of their winless conference hole sooner rather than later.