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Maryland volleyball weekend preview: Cavalier Classic

The Terps travel to Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

Maryland volleyball had definitely felt the impact of failing to pull off a sweep at any tournament this season. And while the Terps may have a harder nonconference schedule than last season, they were 9-0 last year through nine games — now they are 6-3.

Another 2-1 performance at the Aztec Classic was promising, but it had some low moments. Maryland beat San Diego State and Sacramento State on Friday, despite dropping a set in each match. But another heartbreaking five-set loss, this time to Arizona, capped off the team’s weekend out west.

Next, the team makes the short trip to Charlottesville, Virginia, on Friday to participate in the Cavalier Classic. They’ll take on Mercer on Friday morning at 10 a.m., then East Carolina at 5 p.m. On Saturday, a historic DMV rivalry will re-emerge when the Terps take on the Virginia Cavaliers at 3 p.m.

Mercer Bears (4-5)

Head coach Derek Schroeder has been a winning coach for two straight seasons, but he is starting off this season as a losing one. With Southern Conference play soon to begin, Mercer is looking to make a push for the title this year after losing in the first round to Furman last year. Having never won a conference title in his five years as the Bears’ head coach, Schroeder seems eager to bring championships to the school.

Player to watch

Senior defensive specialist Lexi Uhrhan has been putting up decent numbers in her first three years at Mercer on the defensive end, but this year already looks like it could be her best. Last year, Uhrhan averaged two digs a set and had 174 digs through 87 sets. This season, she’s averaging 3.47 digs per set and already has 111 digs through just 32 sets played. With such a massive jump in production, it’s clear that Uhrhan has improved her presence on defense for the Bears.

East Carolina Pirates (4-5)

Another coaching hire during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, head coach Adler Augustin hasn’t had the easiest go of it with the Pirates thus far. He’s gone 17-33 since taking the helm in 2020, and his biggest accomplishment so far has been beating North Carolina in his first season. However, with a just under .500 start to this season, the Pirates hope they can rally toward a winning season.

Player to watch

Freshman outside hitter Alderete Angeles has started off this season in ways that most freshmen would dream of as an offensive leader. She’s averaging 4.09 kills per set — no other player on her team is averaging above 1.7. Angeles is also second on the team in service aces with 12. At 159 points this season, the outside hitter leads the team with the closest teammate coming in at 69 points. The Terps will have to neutralize her in order to win convincingly on Friday.

Virginia Cavaliers (6-2)

Trying to turn around a program that hasn’t had a winning program in seven years is no easy task, but that is exactly what head coach Shannon Wells is trying to do. Being named the head coach in April of 2021, her first season had its growing pains as the team went 8-20. But now, already two wins off her total from last season, it seems like Wells is starting to turn things around. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Virginia volleyball — with the power of a big ACC school — could possibly rise to prominence in the near future.

Player to watch

Graduate outside hitter Grace Turner is another offensive juggernaut in the Cavalier lineup that has been making an immense impact to start this season. Not only is she leading her team in kills per set with 3.3, she has 14 service aces which are the most in the squad. She’s been a major component in Virginia’s 6-2 start to the season, and with her experience, she’ll be a player Maryland head coach Adam Hughes has to watch out for.

Three things to watch

1. Will the offense improve? Ever since the early moments of this season, Hughes has noted that the Terps’ offensive production is something that they need to work on. Heading into this weekend, they may need more of it to keep up with some of their opponents. Both Mercer and Virginia have more team kills this season than Maryland’s 386, with both schools having over 400. These two schools also are averaging higher kills per set than Maryland’s 11.4 this season — Mercer with 12.6 and Virginia with 12.9. The Terps will have to step up their offensive production to stay ahead with some of these offenses, even with a great defense.

2. Will Laila Ricks continue her hot form? This season, junior right side Laila Ricks has been putting up great performances for the Terps. It all started at the Stony Brook Invitational, where she put up 10 kills in 12 attempts and had four service aces against Georgetown. This performance helped her make the All-Tournament Team, and she hasn’t slowed down. Last Friday, she hit her career high in kills against San Diego State with 11. On Saturday, she broke her recent best with 16 kills in a loss against Arizona. Maryland hopes she can keep the good play going the rest of the season.

3. Will the Saturday slump come to an end? For Maryland, the problem this season has continued to be games that take place at the end of nonconference tournaments. When it comes to playing on Saturday, the Terps just haven’t showed up. While they still remain undefeated on Fridays when they play double-headers, the Terrapins have gone 0-3 in standalone Saturday games so far. Last week, they lost another heartbreaker to Arizona in five sets. This week, they face off against tournament hosts Virginia on Saturday, looking to win the team’s first weekend game of the year.