What a great match Friday night at the Xfinity Pavilion in College Park. Maryland women's volleyball capped off a stunning 5-set match with an 8-0 run against the #2 team in the country in Wisconsin.
The story of the match was the ability of Maryland to hit effectively on the outside combined with strong blocking on Wisconsin's outside hitters. Both defenses played well while both teams struggled passing well in serve receive. That was a huge advantage for Maryland, as Wisconsin's middle hitters (6'8 and 6'9, respectively) were nearly unstoppable when Wisconsin passed the ball well and was able to run their offense in-system. The Wisconsin setter was easy to read in advance of setting the middle hitters, either for quick middles in front or for slightly higher balls to the back antenna in rotations with the setter in the front row. However, it didn't make a big difference, as those hitters were both 5 inches or more taller than Maryland's tallest blocker and could do anything they wanted with the hit.
For Maryland, outside hitters Nec and Csire were outstanding as a combination throughout the match, with Nec dominating the early sets with a wide array of shots that were successful, including pummeling the ball down line, tips, rolls, and going high hands off the block and out of bounds. Csire was good in all 5 sets, but really exploded late in the match, including hitting some cannons out of the back row middle ("pipe").
As I mentioned, Maryland didn't serve-receive particularly well, but it ended up being fine because their strategy on offense was to avoid going against the big Wisconsin middles. So even when passes were excellent, Maryland setter Syd Dowler rarely set it to her middles, relying on Csire, Nec, and opposite Laila Ricks to get the kill. Kudos to Maryland middle blockers Thomas and Jones for doing a great job closing and sealing on blocks on the outside to put a lot of pressure on the Wisconsin outside hitters. At one point in the match, I believe it was the 5th set, it felt like Maryland was blocking every hit by Wisconsin.
I'm not sure if this victory for Maryland is indicative of them being a contender in the B1G or it is a one-off win that the Terps will hope gets them an invite to the NCAAs. Hopefully, they see it as a catalyst to do great things, but winning away from the Pavilion and the amazing energy the nearly 2,000 fans brought Friday night is going to be tough to match when traveling to the likes of Minnesota, whom the Terps play this afternoon (9/26).
The Badgers are a very good team, maybe even a great team, but they didn't play as a great team Friday night. Some of it was being away and playing in small, crowded, and very loud, energetic venue. But Maryland has provided a blueprint for the rest of the B1G on how to beat the Badgers. Namely, serve aggressively, scrap for every dig on defense, and look to overpower them on the outside. For Wisconsin to be successful, they need to stop missing so many serves and, more importantly, they need better serve-receive so they can run their middles in-system.