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Maryland volleyball series preview: Rutgers

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After a three-game win streak, the Terps dropped both matches against Illinois last weekend

Maryland volleyball seemed to finally be turning the corner after a series sweep against Iowa extended the team’s win streak to three, but they fell flat against the Illini, losing the first leg 3-1 before dropping the five-set thriller the following day, moving them to 4-12.

The offense was clicking against Iowa, setting two season-highs in hitting percentage in successive matches. Against Illinois, however, the first match saw the Terps hit a putrid 5.9% before eclipsing their season average with a .223 hit percentage in the five-set defeat.

“Because our service receive was a little off, it didn’t allow us to run the tempo that we wanted to run,” outside hitter Sam Csire said. “This week we’ve worked on serve receive a lot and so being able to be in system is really important for us and having all three options available as well as the back row.”

The Terps will play a unique home and away series against Rutgers this week, with the two games taking place three days apart. Wednesday will be the series opener, taking place at the Xfinity Center Pavilion at 7 p.m., while Rutgers will host Saturday’s matchup at 4 p.m.

Wednesday’s game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network, while Saturday’s will be streamed on BTN Plus.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2-14)

2019 record: 8-23, 2-18 Big Ten

Head coach Caitlin Schweihofer is in her first season with Rutgers after spending one year at Northeastern and five years prior to that at La Salle. While in Philadelphia, Schweihofer earned A-10 Coach of the Year honors in 2018 before joining the Huskies and the Colonial Athletic Association. Schweihofer was hired to coach the Scarlet Knights in January 2020, a full year before her debut in New Brunswick due to the coronavirus delay of Big Ten fall sports.

Rutgers has stumbled to just two wins this season, but Schweihofer will look to finish her first year in the Big Ten on a high note.

Players to know

Senior right side hitter Beka Kojadinovic (No. 1) — Kojadinovic spearheads a Rutgers squad loaded with overseas talents. The senior from Serbia has taken major strides on the offense, corralling a team-high 145 kills to the tune of a decent .235 hitting percentage. Acting as the team’s Swiss army knife, Kojadinovic produces in other categories on the court as she leads the team in service aces (18) and second on the team in digs (126).

Junior outside hitter Anastasiia Maksimova (No. 7) — Maksimova is Kojadinovic’s sidekick on the offense, chipping in 135 kills to go along with her right side counterpart. Hailing from Russia, Maksimova mirrors Kojadinovic in many ways. The junior can serve (albeit to the tune of 12 service errors this year), while also putting in work at the net in blocking and on defense, collecting 93 digs. The apprentice to Kojadinovic will look to improve on her impressive penultimate collegiate season.

Junior setter Inna Balyko (No. 10) — How else would Kojadinovic and Maksimova get their touches without an impactful setter such as Balyko. The fellow Russian has been the glue between her offensive warriors and her setting numbers have been near the top of the Big Ten in 2021. Balyko ranks eighth in the conference with 8.41 assists per set and has made her mark in the Rutgers volleyball program.

Three things to watch

1. What will be the story on offense this week? Maryland has been playing Jekyll and Hyde on the offense over the past few weeks. A mixed bag against Indiana in a COVID-stricken weekend was followed by a clinic against Iowa before a major step back against Illinois. Maryland has been driven by the defense, but when both sides have clicked, the Terps have flaunted their potential. It will be all about putting it together against Rutgers as Maryland hopes to find some continuity with its offense from week to week.

“We just can’t get caught up in our mistakes. If you make a mistake, you just move on to the next play,” middle blocker Cara Lewis said. “I feel like that’s always been something that has slowed us down, but I believe if we just continue to believe that we can do what we do best, we should be better on the offensive side of the game.”

2. How will this week’s peculiar schedule influence Maryland’s play? Maryland hosts Rutgers on Wednesday, just four days following their five-set defeat to Illinois. Come this upcoming Saturday and this time the Terps will be in New Jersey for a rematch against the Scarlet Knights. It’s an interesting dynamic in a season that has been driven by weekend series and home-and-away limitations due to COVID, but this week offers some variety in a robotic season as far as scheduling goes.

“I’m curious to see how this plays itself out where you can make even more changes but you can practice your changes,” Hughes said. “Usually when you play a Friday/Saturday you could talk about watching film, but you can’t try to practice any of those things. We’re trying to stay fresh at this time of year.”

3. How will the Terps finish out a lost season? Sitting at 4-12, Maryland’s postseason hopes seem all but lost, but that doesn’t mean the Terps won’t take the time to improve on their craft, especially with such a young roster. The underclassmen figure to continue producing sufficient minutes as the season approaches its finale against Northwestern next weekend, but for this upcoming series, the beginning of a final send-off for the seniors looks to be in order.

“Obviously a bright young group coming through and I think they’re still learning from the older players,” Hughes said. “We wanted to beat Illinois, we hadn’t done it before, and I think everyone was disappointed because everyone wanted to get it for the older players. We want to keep crossing those things off the list.”