In college sports, overcoming tough schedules can be a challenge for teams that aren’t playing the best, especially when an unranked team has to play two top 10 opponents in back-to-back days on the road.
Maryland volleyball went 0-2 last weekend, and it seemed like the team didn’t have much of a chance. Last Friday, the Terps traveled to Minneapolis to take on No. 9 Minnesota, and were promptly swept by the Gophers, 3-0. Last Saturday, Maryland traveled to Madison to face the highest ranked team in the Big Ten in No. 3 Wisconsin, which also dominated and swept the Terps. Maryland now has a conference record of 5-11 and an overall record of 14-14 with four games left to go this season.
Entering the final stretch of their schedule, the Terps will play the first two games of their final three-game home stretch this weekend. On Friday, they will take on No. 5 Ohio State at 7 p.m. Then on Saturday, the Terps will have their senior day game against the Michigan Wolverines at 8 p.m.
No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes (19-5, 15-1 Big Ten)
Head coach Jen Flynn Odenburg’s team has been on a tear during its Big Ten schedule. Currently riding a 14-game win streak, Ohio State’s last victory was a 3-1 win over then-No. 4 Nebraska, the team that had previously handed the Buckeyes their only conference loss of the season. Now a top five team in the country, Oldenburg’s team looks to return to the NCAA Tournament as a team to look out for, having lost in the Sweet 16 last season. With the run that Ohio State’s been on recently, especially in a tough Big Ten, who knows what type of momentum it could carry into the postseason.
Player to watch
Senior defensive specialist Kylie Murr can get overlooked on this highly ranked team, as many defensive specialists are. However, Murr’s numbers show that she does the dirty work at a level which makes her extremely valuable. Her 4.36 digs per set are the second-most in the Big Ten, only less than Purdue’s Maddie Schermerhorn. A member of the 2022 Women’s Collegiate National Team and the record holder for the most digs in a season in Ohio State history, Murr’s experience and skills will make it hard for Maryland to finish off points on offense.
Michigan Wolverines (15-11, 6-10 Big Ten)
Head coach Mark Rosen, the winningest coach in program history, has guided Michigan to the postseason 19 times in his 24 years at the helm of the team. This year, however, could look a bit different, as his Wolverines finds themselves having to win most — or all — of their remaining games to have any shot at postseason play. With only one win over a ranked opponent this season, it may be tough for the team come tournament time. But the Wolverines only have to play one ranked team the rest of the season, so if they are as good as their record says, this year could mark the 20th NCAA Tournament appearance for Rosen.
Player to watch
Senior middle blocker Jess Robinson has been one of the most efficient middle options in the country this season. Her .436 hitting percentage is the third-best in the country and the best in the Big Ten, and she’s been doing this through 90 sets played so far. She also leads her team with 1.12 blocks per set and 92 block assists. With the talented defensive middle blockers that Maryland has, Robinson against graduate middle blocker Rainelle Jones and redshirt junior middle blocker Anastasia Russ will definitely be the matchup of the night on Saturday.
Three things to watch
1. Rainelle Jones can’t be stopped. In her fifth year as a Maryland player, Jones has kept on making history as the best blocker that this school has ever seen. This season, she’s broken the program record for most blocks and also holds the record for most block assists in program history. She currently has the third-most blocks per set in the Big Ten with 1.55 per set, with teammate Russ not far behind at 1.48 blocks per set.
Jones has also helped Maryland become the best blocking team in the Big Ten for the second year in a row, and the best blocking team in the country as well. She will be fun to watch in the final games of the season.
2. Can Maryland stop the Ohio State offense? It’s a really tough matchup for Maryland against a ranked team, and an even tougher matchup when one looks at the Buckeyes’ statistics as a whole this season. They’re at or near the top of the conference in three major offensive categories. Ohio State average the most kills per set at 14.25, the most assists per set at 13.30 and have the second-best team hitting percentage in the Big Ten at .265.
While Maryland blocks well, the Terps are 10th in the Big Ten opponent kills per set and sixth in opponent hitting percentage, which doesn’t speak volumes for the team’s defense. Having played some really tough opponents so far, Ohio State could be Maryland’s toughest offensive opponent yet.
3. Can Sydney Dowler reach 100 blocks on the season? Junior setter Sydney Dowler is making an impact blocking this season, and it isn’t that shocking. In her sophomore season, Dowler had 92 blocks to go along with her 283 digs on the defensive end. She currently has 92 blocks this season, looking to reach the 100-block mark in a season for the first time in her collegiate career. It may be tough with just four games left, but it will be interesting to see if Maryland’s leader in service aces and player with the fourth-most blocks on the team this season can get it done.