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Maryland volleyball weekend preview: No. 8 Penn State and Rutgers

The Terps take to the road to face off against some Big Ten foes.

Maryland volleyball vs Michigan Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times

Maryland volleyball got back to its winning ways on Saturday night, defeating Michigan State in five sets. It was the program’s first ever win against the Spartans and the team’s first Big Ten win of the season.

The Terps head on the road this weekend, facing No. 8 Penn State on Friday night and Rutgers on Saturday night.

It’s been a rocky start to conference play thus far, as Maryland is currently 1-3 with Saturday’s win snapping a three-match losing streak.

The Terps’ latest victory against the Spartans may be a confidence-booster for the squad, but head coach Adam Hughes is wary about how that affects the team going forward.

“It can go both ways,” Hughes said. “It can shift confidence for us, but it also re-alerts some people in the Big Ten that we are dangerous. Coming into the season, I think people thought that.”

No. 8 Penn State - Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Maryland’s history against the Nittany Lions hasn’t been great, with an all-time 6-25 record. The Terps are winless against Penn State since joining the Big Ten and haven’t won a set in State College, Pennsylvania, since the mid-1980s.

The Nittany Lions are 3-1 in conference play, losing in four sets at Wisconsin on Oct. 2. But this team is dominant and one of the best in the Big Ten, as Penn State is third in the conference with a .281 hitting percentage and allow opponents to hit .168 percent.

They are in eighth in the conference with 13.4 kills per set, but against a Maryland team that’s last in the conference in that category, assists per set and digs per set, the Nittany Lions will have their way.

Home-court advantage plays a big role in the Big Ten, and playing in front of 3,300 fans a game will put Penn State in the driver’s seat on Friday night.

Players to watch

Kaitlyn Hord, sophomore middle blocker, No. 23. Hord, while not the team leader in kills, has the highest hitting percentage in the conference —.460 with 115 kills. She’s in the top-10 in the country in hitting percentage, and she also leads the Nittany Lions with 55 total blocks this season.

Serena Gray, sophomore middle blocker, No. 16. Gray is much like Hord in that she’s highly effective on the attack and a massive help at the net. Gray is second in the conference with a .429 hitting percentage and is third on the team with 113 kills. She’s among the nation’s leaders in hitting percentage, like Hord, and she’s second on the team with 34 total blocks.

Gabby Blossom, sophomore setter, No. 13. Blossom has been the one keeping Penn State’s attackers in rhythm as the team’s steady setter. She leads the team with 471 assists and is fourth in the conference with 10.95 assists per set.

Rutgers - Saturday, 7 p.m. EST

It’s been the exact opposite story with Maryland and Rutgers. The Terps are 8-1 against the Scarlet Knights since the two programs joined the Big Ten in 2014. Maryland has won the last six straight matches, dropping one set in those matches. The Terps haven’t dropped a set to Rutgers since Oct. 24, 2015.

Rutgers has had a roller coaster of a season, losing its first three matches, winning its next six, then losing its last six, including an 0-4 record in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights have won one set in those four conference matches.

The team is hitting a conference-low .189 this season, allowing the third-worst opponent’s hitting percentage in the Big Ten at .210. Rutgers is second-to-last in the conference in assists per set, kills per set and digs per set, but they excel at the service line and at the net.

Rutgers is fourth in the Big Ten, averaging 1.47 service aces per set and third in the conference with 2.64 blocks per set. Based on recent history and Rutgers’ current six-match losing streak, Maryland is the favorite.

Players to watch

Tali Marmen, sophomore outside hitter, No. 4. Marmen has been an all-around contributor for Rutgers, leading the team with 115 kills. Despite hitting .125 so far this season, Marmen is third on the team with 88 digs and fourth with 33 total blocks.

Inna Balyko, sophomore setter, No. 10. Despite Rutgers not being a consistent team on the attack, Balyko has been consistent at setter, leading the team with 475 assists, averaging 8.96 assists per set this season. Balyko is also third on the team with 36 total blocks this season.

Jasmine Stackhouse, senior middle blocker, No. 18. Stackhouse has been one of Rutgers’ veteran leaders, leading the team with 54 total blocks and is third with 86 kills. Her .268 hitting percentage is the second-highest of anyone on the team with 100 total attacks or more.

Three things to watch

1. Can Maryland win a set at Penn State? It hasn’t happened in State College in roughly 35 years, but the Terps have not had success against the Nittany Lions, especially on the road. Friday night will be a good test for where this Maryland team is and where they could go this season.

2. Will the winning ways continue at Rutgers? History says yes, considering Maryland has won 18 straight sets against the Scarlet Knights, dating back to Oct. 2015. Expect much of the same on Saturday night.

3. How will Katie Myers perform? Myers is having a breakout season as one of the nation’s leaders in blocks and one of the most efficient attackers in the conference. She’s taken her captainship to heart, becoming of the deadliest two-way players in the nation, but it’s unknown how she will far against a stout Penn State defense.