After the sudden cancellation of last weekend’s scheduled home series against Northwestern, the Nebraska volleyball team shifted their focus to its upcoming series with Maryland. There were some frustrations to vent first, though.
“There was almost a riot in the ready room when I told them,” head coach John Cook said at Tuesday’s weekly press conference.
The Northwestern series was canceled just over an hour before the teams were scheduled to begin warmups for last Friday’s match. Cook said on Tuesday that players thought he was joking when he told them the matches were called off.
Despite the abrupt change, Nebraska’s players and coaches moved on. The Huskers resumed their normal schedule on Sunday after scrimmaging Saturday night. While the prospect of rescheduling the Northwestern series is in flux, Nebraska’s full attention now rests on the Devaney Center’s next challenger.
Maryland travels to Lincoln with an 0-4 record. The Terrapins began their season on the road with back-to-back five-set losses to an undefeated Ohio State, who received 17 votes in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association poll on Feb. 1. Maryland then lost in consecutive sweeps in their home-opening series against No. 6 Minnesota.
Senior outside hitter Erika Pritchard leads the Terrapins in kills with 46 in the team’s 16 sets played so far. The Maryland native was named preseason all-Big Ten for a second consecutive season, the only Terrapin to earn this distinction. Pritchard, however, has struggled with errors, as she enters the Nebraska series with just a .125 hitting percentage.
Sophomore Rebekah Rath is Pritchard’s counterpart on the left side with 40 kills on a .156 hitting percentage. Both Rath and Pritchard play six rotations and carry significant attacking and passing responsibilities in the back row. They have been popular serving targets for opposing coaches looking to slow them down.
Cook noted in Tuesday’s press conference that Maryland likes to set their middle blockers in transition. When Maryland is in system, it has two viable attacking options in the middle. This season, junior middle blocker Rainelle Jones and sophomore middle blocker Cara Lewis are hitting .381 and .310, respectively. Jones is fourth on the team in kills per set. Senior setter Nicole Alford consistently makes a concerted effort to get them the ball.
Maryland is one of the few teams in the conference with a six-rotation opposite. Redshirt junior middle blocker Jada Gardner has expanded her role in the Terrapin offense this year, as she is currently behind only Pritchard and Rath in total attempts. She does not carry the passing responsibilities of the aforementioned left side hitters, however.
Another senior leads the backcourt for Maryland. Libero Sam Burgio has 65 digs on the year and is tasked with helping her fellow passers in receiving serves. Burgio has also tallied nine assists.
History does not favor the Terrapins in their matchup against Nebraska. The Huskers have never lost to Maryland in 13 meetings all-time, only dropping three sets in total. The last six meetings have resulted in sweeps, with Maryland last winning a set over Nebraska in Nov. 2015.
Cook will likely disregard this series history going into the weekend, however. He said Tuesday that Maryland was a “big, physical team” that brings plenty of experience in their starting lineup. The concern for Nebraska, meanwhile, is the two-week layoff between matches.
The Huskers have played ten fewer sets than their upcoming opponent. In that small sample size, Nebraska has four players hitting over .270. Senior outside hitter Lexi Sun leads the team in kills with 22. Senior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins and sophomore outside hitter Madi Kubik are tied for second in that category with 16 kills apiece. Stivrins is hitting .429.
This weekend, the Devaney Center will host its first live match since the second round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, when the Huskers defeated Missouri. An arena always packed with over 8000 fans will be eerily quiet, though, with only family members of players in attendance. Cook said Tuesday that parents were allowed to watch Saturday night’s scrimmage to help simulate a real match.
Both matches against Maryland will be televised. Friday’s match at 6:00 p.m. is on NET, and Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. match will air on the Big Ten Network. The home series will be followed by a road trip to Rutgers the following weekend.