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Maryland volleyball weekend preview: Ohio State

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The Terps take on the Buckeyes to start the 2021 season.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

After over a year of waiting, Maryland volleyball will take the court for a two-game series on the road against Ohio State this weekend.

Hughes and his team are ready to embrace the unfamiliar landscape of playing a season amid a global pandemic and will have a decent task ahead of them when they go to Columbus to face the seventh ranked team in the Big Ten Preseason Coaches Poll — Maryland came in at 12th.

“The greatest challenge for me has been having to adapt to the uncertainty of this season, where you don’t know what next week or even tomorrow will hold,” senior team captain Erika Pritchard told Testudo Times. “But what helps me is having the intentionality to make the most of each day: maximize each moment, control only what I can control, have a grateful heart and finding joy along the way.”

Both Friday and Saturday’s contests will take place at 3 p.m. and air on BTN Plus.

Ohio State Buckeyes

2019 record: 15-17 (8-12 Big Ten)

Head coach Jen Flynn Oldenburg will make her head coaching debut this weekend after spending the past six years as associate director of the Pittsburgh Elite Volleyball Association. During her four-year playing career in Columbus from 1996-99, Oldenburg was an All-Big Ten player at both setter and outside hitter. She also found her name in the school record books, placing seventh for assists (3,213) and twelfth in digs (1,138). The distinguished Buckeye isn’t new to coaching, however, as she spent nine years as an assistant coach for Illinois.

Players to know

Sophomore outside hitter Gabby Gonzales (No. 8) — Gonzales was an Under Armour First Team All-American during her senior year out of Marietta, Georgia, and as a freshman for Ohio State she fit in seamlessly. Gonzales only started 19 of the Buckeyes’ 28 games last season, yet still paced the team in points (309), kills (282) and double-doubles with five. After such a phenomenal debut season in Columbus, Gonzales should be one of the key players lining up for this young Buckeyes squad in 2021.

Sophomore defensive specialist Kylie Murr (No. 6) — Another freshman standout for Ohio State in 2019, Murr had arguably an even bigger season than Gonzales. A four-year All-Indiana standout, Murr made second team All-Big Ten thanks to a conference-leading 559 digs at a 4.49 per set rate. As the starting libero for the Buckeyes, Murr will look to continue her astounding career in the abbreviated 2021 season.

Sophomore outside hitter Jenaisya Moore (No. 18) was another young bright spot for the Buckeyes last season. Moore joined Murr on the All-Big Ten Freshman Team despite starting in only half the games she appeared in. She finished just behind Gonzales in points (301) and kills (269), extending the statistical prowess of the Buckeyes’s youth movement in 2019.

Three things to watch

1. How will the freshmen fit in after such a long wait? It has been a painfully long wait for Maryland’s third-best recruiting class in program history, but it remains to be seen how Hughes will utilize the trio of standout freshmen.

Sydney Dowler, Sam Csire and Laila Ricks were all ranked on PrepVolleyball’s Top 100 Senior Aces, and having them at Hughes’s disposal should allow for frequent experimenting with lineups.

“The freshmen have had more time to acclimate than they’ve ever had before,” Hughes said. “I think those guys have the chance to kind of just settle into their routines and learn a little bit differently.”

2. Who could become Erika Pritchard’s sidekick? When playing Maryland, teams know what to expect from Pritchard. The Preseason All-Big Ten member has been a leader for the Terps since her sophomore year, but who will take the next step towards filling the secondary role on offense?

Rebekah Rath, Rainelle Jones and Jada Gardner are the obvious choices after rounding out the top-five in points for the team in 2019. But dark horse candidates for an increased role in the offense could be junior Hailey Rubino or senior Samantha Burgio, who should slot into the hole at libero left by Allegra Rivas.

3. How will Hughes adjust to playing the same team back-to-back in 2021? Typically Maryland volleyball would play up to two teams over the course of a weekend. However, with this season hindered by COVID travel limitations, Maryland will face a single team each weekend. That should play to the team’s advantage in 2021 with greater preparations for the upcoming schedule.

“It’s a totally new game,” Hughes said. “But I think in some ways it’s kind of exciting just because it’s different”