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Maryland volleyball weekend preview: Indiana

Maryland will head to Bloomington to face off against former coach Steve Aird and his Hoosiers.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

After securing its first victory of the season against Michigan, the Terps were looking to ride the wave of momentum into a home matchup against No. 10 Penn State. That was until the game was postponed due to health and safety concerns, setting up Maryland volleyball’s road trip against the Hoosiers this weekend as the true test of the 2021 season.

“A weird weekend across the conference ... our medical people basically said it was smart to just take a little pause,” head coach Adam Hughes said.

After admitting there was a COVID-19 case within the program Thursday night, Hughes added that the team will be without some players this weekend against Indiana, but did not provide any further information on who would be ruled out due to contact tracing. Last weekend’s match against Penn State was cancelled, with the team saying it was out of “abundance of caution surrounding the health and safety of the participants.” Testudo Times asked for more information on the reason for postponement last weekend, but was denied any further information until late Thursday night.

“I figured this season would be a COVID challenge where you might not have somebody one day,” Hughes said. “I think the group did a pretty good job keeping things business as usual.”

Prior to the pause, Maryland was riding high on a team-total of 39 blocks in the two five-set matches against Michigan. The victory on Feb. 26 was a full display of Maryland’s ability on the offense, defense, serve and receive, and serving. And while the following five-setter resulted in a loss for the Terps, a big weekend against the Hoosiers could be in store.

Both Friday and Saturday’s games will be broadcast at 5 p.m. on BTN Plus.

Indiana Hoosiers (2-10 Big Ten)

Head coach Steve Aird may look familiar. Prior to joining the staff in Bloomington, Indiana, Aird coached the Terps for four years, guiding Maryland through a difficult transition into the notorious Big Ten in 2014. Known for his recruiting, Aird brought in a top-10 recruiting class to Maryland in 2017, a program first, before leaving the program abruptly to join Indiana the following year.

Thus far in his tenure, Aird has compiled a 32-44 overall record, but his prior experience coaching in the Big Ten as well as his work as an assistant coach for two national championship winning Penn State squads in 2007 and 2013, should help build the Hoosier program.

Players to know

Junior outside hitter Breana Edwards (No. 11) — Hailing from Rainier, Oregon, Edwards has been an impact player for the Hoosiers since arriving two years ago. She has led the team in kills in both seasons, including a freshman year that saw her rack up double-digit kills in 20 out of her 28 matches. During her sophomore year, Edwards had her breakout match against the Terps on Nov. 15, when she put together a whopping 39 kills on 88 attempts in the season finale. The kill machine has kept ‘em coming in her junior year, as she is up to 107 kills in 12 games.

Freshman outside hitter Tommi Stockham (No. 3) — Despite Edwards having led the team the past two seasons in kills, Stockham has taken the lead role on the season thus far. The freshman has 132 kills in 12 appearances, albeit to the tune of a .138 hitting percentage. In a winning effort against Iowa on Feb. 6, Stockham racked up 26 kills on 56 attempts, marking her highest hit percentage in her collegiate career. She has shown the ability to be a force on the offense, but the Hoosiers’ points leader has also made a difference on the defense with 13 blocks and 94 digs.

Sophomore defensive specialist Haley Armstrong (No. 14) — Speaking of digs, Armstrong is one of the conference’s top dig getters. Her first season in Bloomington had her atop the team leaderboard with 324 digs, which was good for 11th in the conference. So far on the year, Armstrong has 134 digs, including a total of 42 in the series against Rutgers during the final weekend of January.

Three things to watch

1. How will the week off affect the Terps? It had been a frustrating season up until Maryland’s two-game set against Michigan, but a hard-fought five-set victory in the opening leg before a competitive five-set loss the following day gave reason for optimism. The Terps looked to finally find its rhythm in hosting No. 10 Penn State, but the postponement due to health and safety concerns stranded Maryland’s momentum.

“It was just odd to miss a weekend of competition,” Cara Lewis said. “Just getting back in the mindset that we’re not just competing against each other anymore that we’re competing with other people and playing together.”

Now, how Maryland responds to the layoff should come to define their season as the Terps enter the latter half of the schedule. Will the team find the magic and resiliency shown in the weekend series against Michigan, or will it falter due to the break in action?

2. Will the block party continue? Maryland secured its first victory of the season against Michigan on Feb. 26, largely due to the effort defensively at the net. While the second game’s result wasn’t the same, the Terps still dominated in the blocking department against the Wolverines. Rainelle Jones had 17 on the weekend and Cara Lewis chipped in 16, leading the charge en route to a total of 39. Maryland figures to rely on its blocking efforts once again, as its 2.71 per set average leads the conference despite only one victory to show for it.

“Making sure we’re sticking to our plan and not really trying to change what we’re doing,” Jones said. Lewis added, “Stay low and tight over the net and just be as aggressive as we can.”

3. The master meets the apprentice. This will be the fourth iteration of Aird vs. Hughes since Hughes took over the head coaching position following Aird’s departure from College Park. After Aird led Maryland to a program best seven wins in the Big Ten, Hughes took a leg up on his predecessor with nine conference victories in 2018.

This year has been challenging for both coaches, as the Hoosiers and Terps sit towards the bottom end of the conference standings, with both teams particularly struggling on the offensive end. Hughes will look to improve his undefeated record against Aird, but believes the awkwardness — which they two both experienced when first playing against Penn State during their time coaching together at Maryland — is starting to fade.

“A fair amount of these players haven’t played for him,” Hughes said. “I think now that we’ve been through it a couple years I don’t feel like it really has much of an impact anymore.”