As the start of the conference schedule for Maryland volleyball began last weekend, excitement soon turned into a reality check after both games came to a close.
The Terps started their Big Ten slate 0-2, but they didn’t go down without a fight. On Friday, they traveled to Champaign to take on Illinois, but got demolished, 3-1. Sunday’s match against Indiana came down to the fifth set, but the Hoosiers managed to win the final set, 17-15, and ultimately win the match, 3-2.
Maryland will start the weekend at home by taking on Michigan State on Friday at 6:30 p.m. After that, the Terrapins will match up against the No. 3 Nebraska Cornhuskers in front of a sold-out crowd at the XFINITY Center Pavilion on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Michigan State (9-4)
Head coach Leah Johnson is in the midst of her first season in East Lansing after she was introduced in February of this year. She came from Illinois State, where she became used to winning, having an overall record of 104-53 and winning Missouri Valley Conference titles in each of her last three years. Trying to turn around a team that went 11-18 last year is no easy feat, but she’s already got her squad out to a 9-4 record and will hope to at least win more games than she loses in her first year as a Spartan.
Player to watch
Junior libero Nalani Iosia has been coming up big for the Spartans in the digs department this season, and it’s no surprise. Before this year, she was at Texas where she led the team in digs last season with 313. This year, she has 208 already, leading the team and tallying the third most in the Big Ten. Digs are sometimes overlooked, but it’s apparent that Iosia remains a big part of the team with her contributions.
No. 3 Nebraska (10-1)
Head coach John Cook doesn’t have a lot to prove this season. He’s brought four national championships to a powerhouse Nebraska side, and has only missed out on the NCAA Tournament one out of his 22 years coaching at the school. This year, the expectations remain high after losing to Big ten rivals Wisconsin last year in the national title game. Currently ranked No. 3 in the nation, Nebraska is looking forward to another deep tournament run this season.
Player to watch
Senior outside hitter Madi Kubik has been a bonafide star for some time now on this talented squad. Last year, she was a Third Team AVCA All-America selection and an All-Big Ten first team selection, averaging a team-high 3.49 kills per set while playing 118 sets on the year. In her senior season, she’s been back at it again. Kubik is already leading her team in kills (131), kills per set (3.45) and is tied for the lead in service aces (7). While most of the Cornhuskers are a threat, Kubik is a proven top player in the conference and the country.
Three things to watch
1. Can Maryland’s offense make strides at this point in the season? While it’s clear that Maryland has not reached its full potential on offense this season, the stats compared to the rest of the Big Ten conference are somewhat concerning. At the moment, Maryland ranks last in assists and kills among teams in the Big Ten. Last season, Maryland finished ranked 12th out of 14 teams in these categories, and that was after all conference games were played. If the team’s offense continues to struggle, it will surely have a major impact on its performance in the Big Ten.
2. Will Anastasia Russ keep her efficiency up? The redshirt junior middle blocker is playing her first season for the Terps after coming over in the transfer portal this year. So far, Russ’ numbers have been nothing to look away from on both ends of the floor. While she ranks sixth in the Big Ten in blocks, she also ranks sixth in the Big Ten in hitting percentage at .368. This type of offensive efficiency from the middle blocker position is a great compliment to have alongside the leading blocker in the conference — graduate middle blocker Rainelle Jones. If she can keep this up, the middle blockers in College Park will continue to be the team’s strength this season.
3. Can Maryland overcome Michigan State and Nebraska’s defense? It’s clear that Nebraska and Michigan State are both some of the toughest opponents that Maryland will face this season, and the numbers show it. Nebraska is holding opponents to a .133 hitting percentage this year, which is the lowest in the Big Ten and the second lowest in the country. Michigan State is allowing the fewest opponent assists and kills in the Big Ten this season. It might be a tough task for an already struggling offense to overcome the talent of these two schools.