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Maryland volleyball weekend preview: No. 4 Nebraska

The Terps will hit the road in hopes of ending their winless season.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland volleyball endured another tough two-game set this past weekend against No. 7 Minnesota, suffering consecutive sweeps to drop to 0-4 on the year, the team’s worst start since 1989.

The Terps showed some life in some sets throughout the weekend, but they were no match for the poised Golden Gophers. Now, they face another Top-10 team in the No. 4 Nebraska Cornhuskers, who are fresh off two weeks’ rest after its latest series against Northwestern was postponed.

“There’s less film for us to go off of,” outside hitter Rebekah Rath said. “While we have an idea of some things they’ll do, we also will just have to wait and see how they adjust to us.”

Friday’s game against the Cornhuskers will be at 7 p.m. on BTN+, while Saturday’s game is set to start at 8:30 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.

No. 4 Nebraska Cornhuskers

2020 record: 2-0, (2-0 Big Ten)

Head coach John Cook is one of the most decorated coaches in NCAA history. Since taking over at the turn of the century, Cook has won four national championships in Lincoln, most recently defeating Florida in 2017. He has coached the Cornhuskers to 19 NCAA Regional appearances in his 20 year tenure and has won AVCA National Coach of the Year honors twice. His 588 wins at Nebraska, combined with his 161 with Wisconsin in the 90s, place Cook as the fifth-winningest coach in NCAA record books.

Players to know

Senior outside hitter Lexi Sun (No. 11) — It may be a small sample size, but Sun is already building from her All-Big Ten First Team junior year with a torrid start to her senior season. In her opening weekend showdown against Indiana, Sun compiled 11 kills in each sweep of the Hoosiers, also bolstering her weekend stat line with five service aces and ten digs.

The swiss army knife for the Cornhuskers has been a dominant presence since transferring from Texas during her sophomore year. Sun was a key cog in the Nebraska rotation in 2018, but the national accolades began to pile up for her last season as she paced the team in kills per set (3.57) and contributed solid numbers across the board.

Middle blockers Lauren Stivrins (No. 26) and Callie Schwarzenbach (No. 25) — This duo is as immovable as it comes in the country up front. The senior Stivrins is a two-time AVCA All-American and All-Big Ten First Team selection. She was second on the team in blocks with 127 last season behind junior Schwarzenbach, who one upped Stivrins at 128.

The two former PrepVolleyball Top 10 prospects stand at 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-5, respectively, and make it very difficult for their opponents on the offensive side as well as the defensive side. Stivrins recorded 16 kills last weekend, while Schwarzenbach got four in only three sets.

Sophomore outside hitter Madi Kubik (No. 10) — The Cornhuskers should be in good hands once Sun and Stivrins graduate after this season thanks to the promising star power of Kubik. In her freshman season, Kubik earned All-Big Ten Second Team honors and was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. The sophomore from West Des Moines, Iowa, ranked third on the team with 325 kills last season and is already up to 16 this season in limited action.

Three things to watch

1. How will Maryland handle the size of Nebraska? This weekend’s series can be categorized as a true David vs. Goliath showdown. A lot of facets of the game make the difference in wins and losses, but the size advantage held by the Cornhuskers will be an essential strategy for the Terps to approach.

“With the top players we are playing against, we can aim for the setter and to try and get them out of their system to prevent them from taking over the game,” middle blocker Rainelle Jones said.

2. Will there be some rust from the Cornhuskers? Nebraska last played on Jan. 23, so there’s reason to believe that Cook’s squad may come out a bit sluggish. A team like Nebraska doesn’t have many chinks in its armor, but this could be a moment of vulnerability that the Terps could capitalize on early.

“We can’t have a singular performance from one player to have success. We need a well-rounded team effort,” head coach Adam Hughes said.

3. Can Rebekah Rath keep the wheels turning? Last week, Rath recorded a season-high 13 kills, offering another bright spot from the second year outside hitter in a winless year for Maryland thus far. Rath has taken the expected leap into one of the team’s prominent offensive figures as she has recorded 40 kills altogether on the year.

“I’ve tried to shift my game more to making less mistakes and errors to controlling it more,” Rath said. “I just try to be really supportive to all my teammates and make sure I have their backs.”