As it did to every sport, the COVID-19 pandemic threw Maryland volleyball’s season into flux — and made the schedule far more compact.
In addition to non-conference play cancellations, the Terps were forced to play the same teams on back-to-back nights for nearly every Big Ten matchup this season.
But Maryland has been preparing for a fuller slate — the team knew such a schedule was coming.
“It’s a really quick turnaround,” middle blocker Rainelle Jones said. “We just need to learn this is gonna be the entire season.”
All but one of the Terps’ matchups will be played on consecutive days this season, giving the team next to no time to wind down before another game. That’s an unfamiliar situation for a program used to having its matchups more spread out.
Maryland got its first taste of the abbreviated conference slate last week when the team faced off against Ohio State on back-to-back days. The Terps dropped two five-set thrillers to their conference foe.
And the task of playing the same team twice within a 48-hour window offers a unique set of challenges for coach Adam Hughes’ squad, in both preparation and execution.
“Even if you have a good [first] night,” Hughes said, “it’s gonna be a little bit of gamesmanship to see what you might have to change for night two.”
Despite this season’s abnormalities, Hughes has taken steps to help Maryland adjust to its new schedule. That means preparing both physically and mentally for a packed slate.
“Our practices have been set up so we go a little longer and then we know we’re going to have practice the next day,” middle blocker Jada Gardner said. “So, it has helped us prepare for … having quick turnarounds.”
While Gardner and the Terps have now officially experienced the 2021 schedule’s complexities on their road trip last week to Columbus, Ohio, the team will have to continue navigating the season as their schedule ramps up in the coming weeks.
And that starts Friday night in College Park. Maryland returns home for the first time this season to face No. 7 Minnesota, which demolished Michigan State in two straight-set victories last week.
The Golden Gophers — who boast two preseason All-Big Ten selections in Regan Pittman and Stephanie Samedy — ranked second in the preseason Big Ten standings, trailing only Wisconsin.
While playing the same team on consecutive days is certainly a challenge, Gardner said the Terps have embraced the opportunity to get a feel for their opponents in their first matchup.
“For us as a team, we’re also excited that we get another shot at [Big Ten teams], just because we know what they’re going to do and then we just get another chance to play and run our offense,” Gardner said.