Coming off a straight-set loss to No. 5 Nebraska, the Maryland volleyball travels to Evanston, Illinois, to face Northwestern Wednesday night.
This is Maryland’s second-straight week with a Wednesday and Saturday matchup, compared to the two weeks prior that featured Friday and Saturday matchups.
The Big Ten schedule is hectic and things don’t get easier from here. The Terps are 3-5 in conference play, and with 12 matches left, Maryland will need a strong finish to the season to have a chance to reach the NCAA Tournament.
It starts against the Wildcats on Wednesday before a rematch at home against No. 8 Penn State on Saturday.
Northwestern (9-11, 0-8 Big Ten): 8 p.m.
It’s been a rough go of things for the Wildcats since conference play began. Northwestern, who started out the season 9-3, is winless in the Big Ten, including four consecutive match losses in straight sets.
The Wildcats have played six matches against ranked opponents: No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 5 Nebraska, No. 7 Minnesota and No. 20 Purdue, losing all six in straight sets.
Northwestern’s record isn’t indicative of team statistics so far this season though. The Wildcats are hitting .229 and are among the conference leaders with 13.2 kills per set and 14.3 digs per set. However, their .207 hitting percentage allowed to opponents is one of the five worst in the conference.
Players to watch
Temi Thomas-Ailara, freshman outside hitter, No. 12. Thomas-Ailara has had quite an entrance into Big Ten play. The freshman leads the team with 299 kills and 4.33 kills per set, hitting .224 on the season. She also leads the Big Ten in kills per set.
Payton Chang, graduate student setter, No. 17. Chang is the catalyst of Northwestern’s offense. Her 505 assists and 10.31 assists per set lead the Wildcats and are among the leaders of the conference.
Alana Walker, junior middle hitter, No. 20. Walker, one of the veteran leaders on the team, is a solid two-way player. She’s third on the team with 141 kills, but she’s hit .246 this season with 2.17 kills per set. On defense, Walker leads the team with 72 total blocks.
Three things to watch
1. Can Maryland take a road match with a quick turnaround? Maryland has had three days between Nebraska and its travel day on Tuesday, having just two days to practice due to the NCAA-mandated day off. It will be a tough turnaround, but a rewarding one if Maryland can come out of Evanston with a win.
2. Is Northwestern better than its conference record? Based on statistics, Northwestern has a good team and a dangerous offense. However, it hasn’t been able to show that in conference play. It will be interesting to see if the Wildcats’ record is due to the strength of opponents or just not having the firepower to win.
3. Will Maryland’s attack come alive? Despite a .231 team hitting percentage this season, Maryland has a conference-worst 11.5 kills per set — tied with Rutgers. A big key to a Maryland win on Wednesday is an aggressive attack and lots of aggressive swings.