FWIW, I played for MD Men’s Club National Team from 1991-1995 as a passer/outside hitter. I was a short OH at 5’7, so earned a starting role through excellent serve-receive and defense. Therefore, my analysis tends to impress upon the importance of precision passing in overall team success, especially a team’s ability to hit at a high percentage because great passing gives the setter lots of options and makes it really tough on the opposing blockers.
Ed. note: Wow, denton8er! Thanks for sharing all this! I have questions, I promise, as should lots of people wanting to learn more not just about Maryland and Big Ten volleyball, but the sport in general. Ask your questions in the comments!
What MD had last year and what they lost
-Maryland was a very good blocking team last year and had some experienced players in senior setter Nicole Alford and senior OH Erika Pritchard. Alford is gone and Pritchard has grad/Covid transferred to Penn State. The very good middle blockers remain, however.
- MD’s biggest issue last year was horrendous serve-receive. Hitting percentages suffered because most sets had to go high outside and the opposing blockers knew it. The percentage of 2-pt and 3-pt passes was very low last year. This was the biggest opportunity for improvement for this year.
This Year so far (9-0)
-MD has started the year 9-0 and will likely sweep non-con to bring a 12-0 record into their opening match in College Park vs Wisconsin on 9/24.
- The opening B1G schedule is brutal with that Friday night home opener vs Wisc followed by a Sunday early afternoon (yes, 2 days later) away match at Minnesota. Penn State at home that Wednesday followed by Saturday on the road at Ohio State rounds out the opening 2 weeks. Yikes!
Sophomore Sydney Dowler has been good this season. She got some burn last year in platoon with the senior Alford. They are running 5-1 exclusively this season. Syd has won Tourney MVP in 2 of the 3 tournaments so far this year. Some of that is MD not having one dominant hitter…let’s face it, the big hitters tend to get all the glory. Anyway, her timing with some hitters was wonky to start the season but seems to be improving each week. She’s capable of attacking herself when in the front row.
I think MD’s middles are better blockers than they are hitters, but they’re good hitters too. We tend to platoon Cara Lewis, Hannah Thompson, and Rainelle Jones. Jones is the top middle at 6’3. She’s an explosive jumper and closes well when blocking. Offensively, I think MD gets in a rut with setter Dowler and Jones in the front on serve-receive…they tend to run Jones with more of 3-ball on the weak side and Jones only does a one-footed takeoff, almost like she’s running a back-slide but higher, meaning the opposing middle has enough time to close. The other problem is the one-footed takeoff at the angle she’s coming effectively narrows her hitting angles, making it easier to block.
MD lost a big addition in 6’1 OH Erin Morrissey on the second play of the first set of the first match vs UVA. I think she’s out for the year. In her place now is grad transfer Paula Neciporuka (Nec), who is 5’9 (hey, still taller than me!). At the other OH spot is 6’0 sophomore Sam Csire. As a tandem, they pass better than last year’s team but still pull the setter off the net too often (she’s usually setting from 6’ or 7’ off the net), making it hard to run quick-middle well. Csire is a big hitter and, I think, an even better back row hitter. Paula is more crafty with a broad array of shots that have been effective against weaker competition…we’ll see how those shots work in B1G play.
Laila Ricks has been playing H3 (opposite) so far this year. She’s had some nagging injuries that hamper her ability to play defense, so she comes out in the back row. That hurts because it takes away what should be an effective back row attacker to run some pipes and keep the opposing middle blocker honest.
Sam Burgio was good last year, but she grad transferred out. Even so, MD has upgraded significantly with freshman libero Milan Gomillion. She loves hitting the floor and brings an energy to the whole squad with her great defensive play, often sparking big hits after a great up. She has earned 2 B1G Freshman of the Week honors already this season. She also steps in to serve-receive and does adequately well. However, for the caliber defender she is, she needs to be more consistent passing to the net so the MD offense can run all sorts of combos. Once she has that consistency, she needs to command a larger swath of the court on serve-receive.
Lexy Finnerty comes in as a defensive specialist, but mostly it’s to serve, as she has a very good floater. Kaylee Thomas also comes in as a DS.