Northwestern’s strong serve game provides Maryland volleyball a chance to fix its miscues

Outside hitter Erika Pritchard serves the ball in Maryland volleyball's 3-0 loss to Michigan on Oct. 4, 2019 at Xfinity Pavilion. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

Maryland volleyball left Xfinity Pavilion on Saturday night disappointed following a straight-sets loss to No. 5 Nebraska. There were moments the Terps appeared close, but they were fleeting, with errors from the endline or in receiving stifling those efforts.

Ahead of Wednesday night’s match against Northwestern, one of the central items on Maryland’s to-do list was cleaning up its service and pass game. In the loss to the Cornhuskers, Maryland recorded nine service errors. And on defense, the Terps allowed four Nebraska service aces and sent a number of free balls back over the net.

Though coach Adam Hughes’ squad will be going up against a team that currently sits in the cellar of the Big Ten standings, Maryland emphasized preparing for Northwestern’s service game in practice this week, aiming to clean up mistakes on the first ball after the shaky performance against the Cornhuskers.

“One of the main things we’ve been focused on is the serve and pass,” Hughes said.

[Read more: As Nebraska dominated, Maryland volleyball plagued itself with service errors]

Northwestern enters Wednesday’s matchup with an 0-8 record in the Big Ten, and the Wildcats haven’t won a set since Oct. 5. However, Maryland is wary of Northwestern’s service game and its ability to receive, both of which have been strong points for an otherwise sub-.500 team.

The Wildcats are fourth in the Big Ten in digs, with nearly 15 per set, and they rank ninth in service aces per set. So after struggling with limiting service errors against Nebraska — partly in an attempt to be aggressive against a top-ranked foe — Maryland’s players are cognizant of the need to avoid allowing free points.

And in service reception, the Terps must improve their control of the first ball to enable their attack to flourish.

“Northwestern has some pretty good servers, and we’ll be trying to keep the ball in,” middle blocker Katie Myers said.

[Read more: No. 5 Nebraska asserts its dominance as Maryland volleyball falls, 3-0]

In response to the serving struggles lately, Maryland has experimented behind the endline. After playing in just two sets during the nonconference season, defensive specialist Samantha Burgio has appeared in 18 of the Terps’ past 22 sets, often coming into the match to serve.

In her time behind the endline, Burgio has committed just two service errors, and she has cemented herself as a bright spot in Maryland’s serve game.

“She’s done a pretty good job being solid and consistent for us,” Hughes said. “It’s nice to have someone that is in the position to be reliable.”

Two days of practice at home in College Park have allowed the Terps to address the service woes exhibited on Saturday night. Maryland now feels prepared to put practice into play against an upset-minded Northwestern.

“I saw some things that we could make corrections on, including working on footwork patterns,” Hughes said. “I thought we were able to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time.”

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