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Maryland volleyball weekend preview: Michigan State

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The Terps return home seeking their first win of the season.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland volleyball will look for better results this weekend as it hosts the Michigan State Spartans on Friday and Saturday. Both teams are searching for their first wins on the season and should be decently matched heading into a huge series.

“We’re both good teams, we’re always gonna battle,” head coach Adam Hughes said. “That’s the grind of the Big Ten.”

The Terps showed some life against perennial favorite No. 4 Nebraska last Friday, securing a set victory against the Huskers for the first time since 2015. Saturday’s performance wasn’t as promising, however, as the Terps looked deflated in a three-set sweep.

Both contests against Michigan State start at 6 p.m. and will air on BTN+.

Michigan State Spartans

2021 record: 0-4, (0-4 Big Ten)

Head coach Cathy George is a trailblazer among the sport at the collegiate level. In her first year coaching at UT-Arlington following two years with North Dakota State, George led the Mavericks to the NCAA Final Four in 1989, the first female coach to do so. Her legacy both on and off the court led to her landing the Michigan State job in 2005. Since joining the Spartans, George has led the team to 10 NCAA tournament appearances thanks to a program leading 288 career wins.

Players to know

Freshman outside hitter Sarah Franklin (No. 7) — Franklin has been a one-woman wrecking crew in four matches this season for the Spartans. The freshman has soared to the top of the team’s statistics list with 48 kills in the early going. Her 3.43 kills per set mark places her seventh in the Big Ten, while her dig total of 33 makes her a commodity on the defensive side as well for Michigan State.

Junior middle blocker Naya Gros (No. 17) — Through four games for the Spartans, Gros has been the leading woman on the defensive side with nine blocks. Last year, she ranked seventh in the Big Ten with 1.23 blocks per set and even flashed potential on the offensive side too. Gros compiled 187 kills to the tune of a .282 hitting percentage, but a semi-slow start for Gros this season has left her at a pedestrian 18 kills.

Senior opposite hitter Stephanie Samedy (No. 10) — Meredith was the player above Gros on the kills list in 2019 and she too is off to a slow start for her standards in 2021. The senior captain was Michigan State’s leading scorer last year, recording 267 kills to the tune of a 3.18 point per set mark. She also led the team in service aces with 22, but this season has been a bit of step back thus far, only compiling 16 kills and a single service ace in 12 sets played.

Three things to watch

1. Can Erika Pritchard will the Terps to victory? The senior captain has been nothing short of spectacular in the early going of this season. Despite an 0-6 record, Pritchard has been the main catalyst in a ton of Maryland comeback attempts, both with her play on the court and her leadership. Her opening weekend series against Ohio State saw the senior pile up 30 kills. Since then, Pritchard has kept up the intensity, leading to 69 kills at a three kill per set pace.

“Both teams will bring a lot of fight,” Pritchard said. “We have to take a big punch and play hard together.”

2. Now that the hardest stretch is over, will Maryland begin to turn its season around against Michigan State? Maryland played No. 5 Minnesota and No. 4 Nebraska in back-to-back weeks following consecutive five set matches against an undefeated Ohio State team. To say the Terps have had it rough to start this season would be an understatement.

“We’re a few points away from a couple wins against Ohio State and the whole thing could be a little bit different,” Hughes said. “I don’t want the team to ever feel that that resolve should drive how they feel about themselves.”

3. Maryland needs to cut down on the receiving errors. The Terrapins have conceded 58 points due to receiving errors compared to 25 from their opponents. That stat alone could help explain why the Terps have stumbled to an 0-6 record thus far this season. In order for Maryland to get into the win column this weekend, they are going to have to cut down on the errors as a team.

“We’re basically playing against ourselves,” middle blocker Rainelle Jones said. “Focusing on our side and staying in control is really going to be important for the game.”