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Maryland volleyball weekend preview: Michigan

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Maryland will hope to execute better this weekend as they hit the road to take on the Wolverines.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Sitting at 0-8, Maryland volleyball will need to pick up the slack this weekend as the team travels to Ann Arbor, Michigan to face off against the Michigan Wolverines.

Last weekend’s series against Michigan State was lackluster for the Terps considering the Spartans’ poor defense heading into the two games on the road. Saturday’s performance saw Maryland rebound after a putrid .171 hitting percentage, yet the Terps were still handed a 1-3 loss, capping off the sweep for the Spartans.

Maryland is scheduled to play Michigan on Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m. on BTN+, but the weather forecast in the coming days suggests a possible rescheduling.

Michigan Wolverines (1-2 Big Ten)

Head coach Mark Rosen has spent 21 years at the helm for the Wolverines, pacing the program with 430 career wins. Prior to Rosen’s tenure, the Wolverines had only made the NCAA Tournament once. But since taking over in 1999, Michigan has entered postseason play 18 times, including a national semifinal appearance in 2012. His wife, Leisa, has been associate head coach the whole way, with her main stake being on the defensive side.

Players to know

Junior outside hitter Paige Jones (No. 1) — A two-time Preseason All-Big Ten selection, Jones has been as dominant as advertised since traveling north from her hometown in New Bremen, Ohio. Jones’ freshman year saw her place second on the team in kills with 402. She followed that solid mark with a team-high 463 kills to go along with a 4.44 points per set average in 2019. Thus far in two games this season, Jones is up to 49 kills.

Freshman outside hitter Jess Mruzik (No. 5) — The one ahead of Jones on the kills leaderboard so far in 2021 is the 2019 National Gatorade Player of the Year. From right up the road in Livonia, Michigan, Mruzik was an Under Armour All-American during her senior year at Farmington Hills Mercy. Despite just a small sample size, Mruzik is off to a fine start to her first collegiate season with 51 kills.

Freshman setter Scottee Johnson (No. 4) — A team that prides itself on executing precision passing needs a workhorse, and so far on the season Johnson has been the main player. Her 117 assists lead the team and has her in the top-10 in the conference leaderboard with a 9.75 assists per set average. Johnson has also been consistent in the dig department, corralling 34 digs on the young season.

Three things to watch

1. How will Maryland approach a difficult Wolverine passing squad? The main talk around Maryland’s practice this past week has been how to defend a Wolverines team renowned for its passing. Redshirt freshman libero Hannah Grant, among many other standouts, is up to 56 digs on the season, which paces the Big Ten at 4.67 digs per set.

“They don’t necessarily give you a person to go after, you kind of have to go after different seams and be able to adjust,” head coach Adam Hughes. “I think our focal point has been to move the ball around and not be predictable.”

Hughes could look to his youngsters off the bench to keep Michigan on its heels. Freshman Sydney Dowler was one of those new faces that Hughes utilized last week against Michigan State and is someone who is ready to make an impact after getting that monkey off her back last week.

“That just gave me an introduction and now I need to be more steady and calm when I go in [next time],” Dowler said.

2. What can be expected from both team’s game plans? On Wednesday, Michigan traveled an hour down Interstate 96 to make up a prior postponement in East Lansing. The team will have a quick turnaround of less than 48 hours when it has to play a Maryland team that is hungry for its first victory. It will be interesting to see how not only Michigan will respond to the somewhat rushed preparation against Maryland, but how Maryland can fixate on Michigan’s weaknesses in playing two teams in such quick order.

3. Maryland will need to cut down on the mistakes. Self-inflicted mistakes have been one of many issues for the Terrapins, who have compiled 294 errors across the four major statistical categories, including 71 on receptions. Going up against a team that does not make a ton of mistakes thanks to a rock solid receiving line adds fuel to the fire. Maryland will need to be more poised on the serve and receive opportunities to have a chance at wearing the Wolverines down, which has been a point of emphasis this week in practice.

“The tone has been really intense because one of the things we’ve lacked before is our communication,” Sam Burgio said.