With the schedule that Maryland volleyball is faced with, it is an achievement just to remain with above water every week. It is safe to say that Maryland did just that last week.
Playing two quick rematches, the Terps managed to go 1-1 for the second straight week. They played No. 16 Penn State on Wednesday to kick off the week, and Maryland just couldn’t keep up with the Nittany Lions, losing 3-1 for the second time this season. The Terps finished off their week at home against Iowa on Sunday, where they looked in control and comfortably beat the Hawkeyes, 3-1. The team now finds itself with a 14-12 record and a 5-9 record against Big Ten opponents.
This weekend, Maryland has a rough schedule to face, not just opponent wise, but turnaround wise as well. On Friday, the Terps will travel to take on No. 9 Minnesota at 7:30 p.m. away from home. A little over 24 hours later, they will travel to Madison to go up against No. 3 Wisconsin, currently the highest ranked team in the Big Ten, at 8 p.m.
No. 9 Minnesota (15-7, 10-4 Big Ten)
Head coach Hugh McCutcheon has been a beacon of excellence in his time coaching the Golden Gophers. Last year, the team made the Elite Eight and lost to Wisconsin, the eventual national champion. This year, the former AVCA Coach of the Year has been keeping his team in or around the top 10. The Golden Gophers most recently lost to Wisconsin in an Elite Eight rematch and have had let-down losses to teams like Northwestern this season. However, the squad looks primed for another appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Player to watch
Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Taylor Landfair has been an unstoppable force on offense for Minnesota this season. Her 4.54 kills and 5.08 points per set are the most in the Big Ten. These stats are outstanding, but with a hitting percentage of .258 she’s doing all of this with a surprisingly good hitting percentage as well. Minnesota has played multiple highly-ranked opponents this year, and even though Landfair has been battle-tested, the redshirt sophomore has shown that she can be a force against all Division I opponents for years to come.
No. 3 Wisconsin (19-3, 13-1 Big Ten)
Head coach Kelly Sheffield doesn’t have a lot left to prove this year after leading the Badgers to the national championship last season. But so far in 2022, Wisconsin is showing no sign of a hangover, having only lost three games. Sheffield’s team recently had a championship game rematch from last season, playing No. 4 Nebraska when the Cornhuskers were ranked No. 1 in the country. The Badgers proceeded to beat their opponent in straight sets, showing that they could be favorites to repeat as national title winners. This team will be far from easy for Maryland to compete against.
Player to watch
Fifth-year middle blocker Danielle Hart has been a problem for Big Ten teams this season as one of the best at her position. She may have the fewest kills among the top 10 in hitting percentage in the Big Ten, but she is still ranked second with a .382 hitting percentage. This isn’t the only part of her game where Hart has excelled, as the fifth-year has also averaged 1.63 blocks per set, which is tied with Maryland graduate middle blocker Rainelle Jones for the second-highest average in the Big Ten. Being this good on both offense and defense has definitely played a big part in Wisconsin being as good as they have been this season.
Three things to watch
1. Blocking on both sides of the net. Maryland has a reputation as one of the best blocking teams in the country. The team currently averages 3.34 blocks per set, the most in the country, and has two players in the top five in blocks per set in the Big Ten. It may seem obvious, but the team’s blocking has severely impacted it’s opponents ability to do the same exact thing. Maryland’s opponents this season only average 1.67 blocks per set as a team. To put that into perspective, Jones averages 1.63 blocks per set herself. Even though it hasn’t always translated to wins, it’s clear that these blocking stats are something to keep an eye on the rest of the season.
2. Wisconsin’s ability to limit hitting percentage. The Badgers are a great team that became that way partially thanks to a great team hitting percentage. They currently sit second in the Big Ten with a team hitting percentage of .259. But unlike the top team on that list — Minnesota — the Badgers’ defense has been especially great at limiting opponents’ hitting percentage to dominate games. Opponents have averaged a .152 hitting percentage against them this season, and it’s really hard to win when the hitting percentage stats overly favor one team. With Maryland limiting opponents to a .179 hitting percentage, it will be interesting to see if the Terps’ defense is up to the task Saturday.
3. Sam Csire could reach 400 points. The junior outside hitter reached 453.5 points last season with a 3.48 kills per set average. This year, Csire has again been looked at as the number one kills option for the Terps and is looking to one-up her previous campaign. Currently at 374 points, Csire hasn’t gotten much help with freshman outside hitter Laila Ivey the only other player averaging more than two kills per set this season. If she can come back with the same stats next season, and Ivey can make a jump in performance from her freshman to sophomore year, the Terps’ offense could be much improved in 2023.