Volleyball: Wildcats eye first conference win against Maryland


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Temi Thomas-Ailara stares at her opponent. The freshman outside hitter leads the Big Ten in kills per set.

Carlos Stinson-Maas, Reporter


Northwestern’s upcoming game against Maryland comes with high stakes. If they lose, the Wildcats would secure their worst start in conference play since 1999.

NU (9-11, 0-8 Big Ten) hosts the Terrapins on Wednesday, looking to pick up its first win in over a month. Maryland (11-9, 3-5) is the first unranked opponent the Cats have faced since Oct. 5. But that doesn’t mean the game will be an easy contest — the Terrapins won their last three meetings against NU.

Coach Shane Davis praised Maryland’s performance in recent weeks, specifically its five-set loss at No. 8 Penn State.

“Maryland’s playing really well right now,” Davis said. “They’ve got a lot of returners from last year’s team, so they’re going to be a handful.”

Thirteen of 15 players from the Terrapin’s 2018 squad returned this season, including redshirt sophomore middle blocker Katie Myers, who ranks fifth in the nation in total blocks with 114.

Last Saturday, Maryland broke their all-time attendance record in a 3-0 loss to No. 5 Nebraska. The Cats also lost in straight sets, falling to No. 6 Wisconsin.

Despite NU’s losing streak, Davis said the team has performed well in practice and praised some individual performances in games.

Junior opposite Danyelle Williams and sophomore outside hitter Ella Grbac recently returned from injuries, and both recorded at least five kills in the loss to Wisconsin. Freshman outside hitter Temi Thomas-Ailara has converted 10 or more kills in 17-straight matches — she ranks 30th in the country in kills per set.

However, the Cats have faltered in the Big Ten thus far, winning only two sets in eight conference matches. Fortunately for NU, eight of its next 10 games will be against unranked opponents, so the Cats will have more promising opportunities to get back on track. Coach Davis, however, said he’s focused on beating Maryland.

“We’ve got to continue to take care of the first contact,” Davis said. “They’re a physical team, so we just gotta find ways to minimize our errors, continue to find ways to kill the ball on top. The next piece for us is getting that second and third contact in bigger moments.”

NU has certainly struggled in big moments this season, taking late first set leads against ranked opponents four times but failing to win a single set in those games.

Last week against Wisconsin, the Cats led 21-16 in the first set and 19-18 in the second but couldn’t find a way to win either.

Davis said he’s proud of the team’s performance against top-ranked teams, despite the losses.

“We were fighting every single point, and I was proud of the group in that sense,” Davis said. “We had a good week, but we just kind of got beat.”

The matchup with Maryland should be less daunting, as the Terrapins have lost seven games this year to unranked opponents — NU has lost just five.

Davis said the team has a positive mindset moving forward.

“They’re doing a really good job at focusing on team-first, mission-first,” Davis said. “It’s not something that happened overnight, it’s not something that just happened this year. It’s been something that’s been an ongoing process.”

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