After two thrilling road victories making program history over No. 15 Michigan and Ohio State last week, Maryland volleyball will host two top-10 opponents on Friday and Saturday.
The Terps will battle No. 3 Minnesota followed by No. 7 Wisconsin this weekend. Entering Friday’s match, the Terps (17-11, 8-8 Big Ten) are playing some of their best volleyball of the season. Still, the Terps played the Golden Gophers on September 22 and lost in straight-sets. The offense struggled to mount attacks against the strong defense, hitting just .089 throughout the match.
“We ran into a team with title aspirations that is playing great volleyball,” head coach Adam Hughes said after the first meeting between the two teams.
Minnesota enters the match at 22-2, including 16-0 in the conference, winners of 17 matches in a row. The middle blocker duo of redshirt sophomore Regan Pittman and redshirt junior Taylor Morgan are both top 10 in the conference, averaging 1.15 and 1.14 blocks per set, respectively.
For Maryland, the outside hitter duo of senior Liz Twilley and sophomore Erika Pritchard, the conference leader in kills, will need to find gaps in the Golden Gopher defense. Support from redshirt freshman middle blocker Katie Myers and freshman outside hitter Emma Schriner will be key to providing the Terps more offensive balance.
Despite a talented Golden Gopher offense, the Terps played a strong match defensively the last time both teams met. Myers and freshman middle blocker Rainelle Jones led the way at the net, while freshman libero Allegra Rivas provided support at the backend, finishing with 23 digs. Rivas was just awarded Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week for the third time this season, the first freshman to do so in the conference since 2011.
Minnesota enters the match leading the conference in overall hitting percentage, with two of the top four most efficient attackers in the conference. The duo of Morgan and Pittman are both averaging above a .380 hitting percentage on the season.
The Terps will look to upset the Golden Gophers on Friday night and will not have to wait long after to take on the No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers are 18-6 and 11-5 in the conference and will play Ohio State in Columbus on Friday night before traveling to College Park.
Saturday night is the final home match of the season honoring the Terps two seniors, Twilley and senior defensive specialist Abigail Bentz. Both will look to win their final home matches of their career in a season where their leadership has been paramount.
“We definitely felt like we needed to take a leadership role as seniors and help show the way,” Twilley said earlier in the season.
The Badger attack is spearheaded with sophomore middle blocker Dana Rettke, sixth in the conference in total kills and leading the conference in hitting percentage. Meanwhile, sophomore setter Sydney Hilley leads the conference in total assists. The outside hitter duo of redshirt junior outside hitter Madison Duello and sophomore Grace Loberg round out the Badger offense.
Rivas, Myers and Jones will need to be at their best combating one of the best offenses in the conference. Similar to Minnesota, the Terps blockers and backline will be need to communicate and position themselves in the right places. Limiting the Badgers offense, will open up more opportunities for the Terps hitters to find openings.
Pritchard, Twilley and the rest of the offense will look to keep the Badger defense off balance. Rettke is also second in the conference in average blocks per set, therefore the Terps offense must ensure to keep a keen eye of where she is on the court at all times.
“We’re playing against some of the best teams in the country and that can help you learn about yourself,” Hughes said.
The Terps will once again be tested this weekend with first serve slated for 7:00 p.m. Friday in the Pavilion.