Late in the first set against No. 4 Wisconsin on Wednesday night, Maryland volleyball outside hitter Rebekah Rath rose up for a kill, only for her spike to misfire out of bounds for a Badgers point.
Along with the rest of her teammates, Rath found little to no success on attack. Outside hitter Erika Pritchard led her squad with nine kills, but also produced seven errors. The team produced a .156 hitting percentage. And Rath attacked at just a .062 clip along with three kills during the Terps’ straight-sets loss.
Rath’s offensive production has seen a dramatic drop-off since the Terps began conference play. In coach Adam Hughes’ mind, that’s not much of a surprise coming against some of the top teams in the country. Rath’s struggles are all part of the process of adjusting to college volleyball.
“She’s a freshman, and she’s going through a learning curve,” Hughes said. “She learned what it’s like to play a top-four team on the road in front of 6,000 people.”
[Read more: No. 4 Wisconsin blows past Maryland volleyball in straight sets]
Even more daunting, the official estimate of the crowd was just over 7,000 people.
The Altamonte Springs, Florida native posted double-digit kills in eight nonconference matchups, but she has only reached that mark three times since Maryland began conference play on Sept. 25.
Rath’s season-highs in points, kills, and aces also came in nonconference play, and she hasn’t come within six kills of her season-high 21 put-aways against Princeton in a Big Ten match.
Much of the parity between Rath’s performance against nonconference opponents compared to conference foes is down to the quality of the opposition.
“It’s really hard going up against these girls because it’s a lot bigger block than I ever saw in club,” Rath said. “I’m still trying to figure it all out.”
[Read more: Maryland volleyball is bracing for the challenge of Dana Rettke and Wisconsin]
In her third and final year of high school, Rath opted to play solely club volleyball instead of competing with her high school team. While the competition with her club squad may have been a step up from high school, none of it compared to what she’s seen in the Big Ten.
“She’s working hard every day to try and get the most out of her game,” Hughes said. “A lot of times, this is what freshmen go through, and we have a lot of trust in her.”
Maryland faced Wisconsin’s Dana Rettke, a 6-foot-8 middle blocker who notched 17 kills and four blocks against the Terps. Rath struggled to get anything around her.
Still, Rath has shown glimpses of high potential in select Big Ten matches, including a 14-kill effort against No. 8 Penn State on Oct. 11. That gives her teammates confidence the rookie can continue to improve.
“For coming in a whole year early, she’s doing well talking to the pins and talking to me,” middle blocker Rainelle Jones said. “She’s trying to show what she can do.”
So despite failing to reach double-digit kill total for the fifth straight match, Rath understands her development in the Big Ten will take time.
“It’s a lot,” Rath said, “but I just have to remember that I’m a freshman and be nice to myself.”