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Maryland volleyball faces its toughest test of the season at Maryland Challenge

After starting 9-0, it will be tough for the Terps to finish the weekend unscathed.

Maryland Volleyball vs. Penn State

Maryland volleyball has competed in three separate invitational tournaments this season, sweeping three opponents at each for a 9-0 record. This weekend, the Terps play at home for the first time since August with two ranked opponents on the docket.

The three other teams at the Xfinity Center this weekend will be No. 7 Washington, No. 18 USC and Oklahoma. Maryland is the only team among the four who is undefeated.

“I think the interesting thing about the weekend is actually the distinct styles that all three teams bring to the equation,” associate head coach Adam Hughes said.

Maryland’s first game will be against USC Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. The Trojans are 7-2, after dropping games to No. 12 Kentucky and getting upset by Northern Iowa. Both of those games happened at the same invitational, where the Trojans also beat No. 8 Creighton on the Bluejays’ home floor.

“USC plays incredibly fast, so they make you make decisions a lot faster,” Hughes said.

It is tough to predict which version of USC shows up in College Park. Still, Maryland can take advantage of a team that’s been slipping in the rankings. If the Terps’ stars can attack frequently, even if they’re not getting kills with every attempt—and their defense can manage a few blocks—they can win three sets against the Trojans at home.

Oklahoma has had little to show for its season thus far, winning just three games against Northwestern State, Nicholls, and Southern Miss. The 3-6 Sooners will play the first game of the tournament at 4 p.m. against Washington, and they’ll face Maryland at 11 a.m. Friday.

Washington faces off against Maryland at 7 p.m. Friday for the final game of the tournament. The Huskies, who started the season ranked third, have only dropped one match, a four-set loss to Creighton.

“Washington is a systematic team that doesn’t make a lot of errors,” said Hughes. Capitalizing on those few errors may be the Terps’ only chance to win.

Maryland’s chances to beat the Huskies are slim, but if the Terps can manage to escape the tournament with only one loss, things will be looking promising entering conference play.

What to watch for

  1. USC vs. UMD. It’s not reasonable to expect a team who hasn’t been tested by any ranked teams to remain undefeated through a weekend like the one Maryland is about to face. The Terps’ first real test of the season will be the matchup against USC in their first game of the weekend.
  2. Drechsel plays against her home state. Samantha Drechsel, Maryland’s highly recruited freshman outside hitter, will play against her home state’s Huskies on Friday. It will be interesting to see how she performs against Washington’s methodical approach.
  3. This weekend will be an indicator of Big Ten play. Hughes suggested this weekend may work as a litmus test to see how well Maryland is prepped for Big Ten play, even comparing USC’s fast play to that of No. 1 Minnesota.