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Maryland volleyball weekend preview: Michigan and Michigan State

The Terps host two Big Ten matches in two days, searching for their first conference win of the season.


Maryland volleyball continues its Big Ten schedule at home with back-to-back matches against Michigan (9-3) and Michigan State (10-2).

The Terps have had a week of practice at home after a rough 0-2 start to conference play last week. Maryland lost in four sets at home to Ohio State on Wednesday and straight sets at Michigan State on Saturday.

“I think we’re at a good place where we need to stay positive,” outside hitter Erika Pritchard said. “It’s been a rocky start, but we're definitely encouraging each other and we’re not giving up.”

Michigan — Friday, 6 p.m.

This is a different Wolverines team than in recent years, despite still being amongst the best teams in the conference and the country, receiving votes in the latest rankings. They’ve had success in conference play, winning straight-set matches against Rutgers and Ohio State.

Michigan’s attack is balanced, with three players possessing 100 kills or more this season. The Wolverines average 13.3 kills per set, hitting with power and efficiency. They are seventh in the nation with a .285 hitting percentage, up .058 from last year.

The offense is their strongest asset as their defense isn’t flashy, with two players who’ve recorded 100 digs or more and 81 total blocks.

Last time these two programs met, Maryland defeated the then-No. 15 Wolverines in straight sets in Ann Arbor. It was the first time in program history that the Terps upset a ranked team on the road. Erika Pritchard led all players with 16 kills in that match.

Players to know

Paige Jones, sophomore outside hitter, No. 1. Jones is Michigan’s best attacker, which as a sophomore, is scary for Big Ten teams moving forward. Her 143 kills and 167 total points lead the team. She also is hitting .258 on the season and there’s plenty of opportunities remaining for that to increase.

May Pertofsky, freshman middle blocker/outside hitter, No. 18. Pertofsky currently has 100 kills on the season and she’s also one of Michigan’s best blockers, leading the Wolverines with 39 total blocks on the season. Additionally, she’s hitting .335 in 2019.

Natalie Smith, junior libero, No. 8. Smith has been consistent in her previous two years at Michigan. Now, as the starting libero, she’s recorded 136 digs to lead the team. In her last five games, she’s recorded 69 digs, an average of 13.8 digs per game.

Michigan State - Saturday, 7 p.m.

The Spartans have gone from the hosts to the visitors after dominating the Terps in East Lansing on Saturday night.

Like Maryland, the Spartans are playing Friday/Saturday matches, traveling from Columbus on Friday night. They are going to arrive late in College Park and won’t have much time to practice before Saturday’s match with Maryland.

The last time the two programs faced off in College Park, the Terps took the Spartans to five sets for the first time, but Maryland fell in the fifth set tiebreaker, 15-11.

Maryland is still looking for its first win against the Spartans in program history. Playing them in back-to-back weekends helps to keep their tendencies in recent memory.

“You don’t have this very often where you play someone back-to-back weekends,” head coach Adam Hughes said. “Obviously, not going to overlook a very good Michigan team, but it’s nice to be at home for two matches and also have three days of practice.”

What happened last weekend

It was all Michigan State from the opening serve as the Spartans hit .242 on their way to a comfortable straight set win. Maryland struggled on the attack, hitting .097. Overall, Michigan State led in all offensive and defensive categories.

Naya Gros led Michigan State with 10 kills in the match, but it was Maryland’s lack of efficiency on offense, especially on the serve, that gave Michigan State the comfortable match win.

Players to know

Naya Gros, sophomore middle blocker, No. 17. Gros had an impressive attacking performance in Michigan State’s straight-set win over Maryland last Saturday. She led the Spartans with 10 kills, hitting .417, and was tied for the team lead in points with 11.

Samantha McLean, senior defensive specialist/libero, No. 22. McLean held tough in the back lines for the Spartans against the Terps. She led the team with 10 digs, one of four different Michigan State players to record seven or more digs and the only one with double-digits.

Rebecka Poljan, sophomore middle blocker, No. 21. Poljan had the joint-best offensive performance on Saturday night with Gros. She was second on the team with nine kills, leading the team with a .533 hitting percentage and total blocks with four.

Three things to watch

  1. Can Maryland finally beat Michigan State? That is still the elusive question surrounding Maryland volleyball as the program is now 0-10 all-time against Michigan State. Good news came last season when the Terps took the Spartans to five sets, so the possibility is there, but it didn’t look like it last time out.
  2. Can the Terps get back on track in conference play? Maryland hasn’t started 0-2 in the Big Ten since 2016, when it finished the season 12-20 and 4-16 in conference play. The team is still growing and gelling together, but a win will bring back any lost confidence.
  3. Will Erika Pritchard and Rebekah Rath be factors this weekend? The two have combined for 33 total kills in the last two matches, uncharacteristic for the top-two attackers. Expect some big performances from the duo that’s been unnaturally quiet so far in conference play.