Anastasia Russ seems to have found her home in College Park.
She’s blossomed into a dynamic middle blocker since transferring to Maryland in January after struggling to find a role in a talent-laden Pitt squad that reached the Final Four last season.
And despite falling in its previous two matches against Michigan State and No. 3 Nebraska, Maryland volleyball watched Russ deliver two of the best performances of her career.
Russ was a force on the offensive end on Sept. 30 against the Spartans. She smashed her previous career high of nine kills with a dominant 11-kill barrage against one of the Big Ten’s most robust defenses. She followed up her scorching offensive night with a career-best 11 blocks on Oct. 2 against Nebraska.
As Russ nestles deeper into Maryland’s system with each set she plays, her versatility continues to be a key asset for a team still searching for its first Big Ten win.
“She’s someone that’s got a high IQ for the game,” coach Adam Hughes said after the Michigan State match. “She’s someone that can set, she can dig, she can serve. I think that helps her as a middle just because she has good vision of what the floor is, she does well with overpasses.”
Russ displayed her ability to handle overpasses late in Maryland’s match against Michigan State when she cannoned a trio of Spartan misplays to the floor that gave the Terps a crucial boost.
After punishing them with two pulverizing kills to help Maryland close out the fourth set with a win, Russ embarked on a strong sequence.
First, she fooled Michigan State with a deftly placed tap kill that graced the floor just before a swarm of diving Spartans could get a hand on it. It was Russ’ 10th kill of the night and gave Maryland a 3-2 lead.
Then, Russ reached back after a sloppy Michigan State serve receive and catapulted her 11th kill past a helpless Spartan defense.
Finally, she walled a Maradith O’Gorman spike on the ensuing point that registered another ear-splitting roar from the Xfinity Pavilion crowd.
“Being honest, this is the loudest gym I’ve ever played in,” Russ said. “I’ve been to a lot of different schools traveling, so it’s really impressive. You definitely can feed off of the energy that they provide us, so we’re super thankful.”
That energy was just as electric two days later when the Terps took the floor at home against No. 3 Nebraska in front of 2,113 fans — the second most ever to watch a game at the Pavilion.
Unfazed by the record crowd, Russ orchestrated a flawless defensive performance against one of the country’s top teams — with a career-high 11 blocks and no block errors.
She stared down the attack of a No. 3-ranked Nebraska team featuring dominating outside hitters Whitney Lauenstein and Madi Kubik and helped Maryland hold the Cornhuskers to a season-low .112 hitting percentage.
“I’ve seen a lot of confidence from her, especially from day one,” sophomore libero Milan Gomillion said. “She knew coming in, these girls are big, they’re going to be physical, and I think she really improved, worked hard in practice, you know, took in what the coaches were saying to her and I think it really showed [against Nebraska].”
Russ earned a starting role within Hughes’ squad, giving her the opportunity she needed to demonstrate her value as a versatile middle blocker who elevates her game against the game’s best.
Sharing a position with the nation’s most proficient blocker in Rainelle Jones has hidden Russ’ impressive defensive season. Her 86 blocks are second only to Jones among Big Ten players, while her 1.41 blocks per set average are tied for fifth in the conference.
“[Jones] gets a lot of attention, but I think Russ is having a great season for us,” Hughes said.
With Jones playing her final season at Maryland, Russ appears primed to be the next centerpiece of the Terps’ nationally renowned defense moving forward.
“My teammates encourage me every day, and my coaches just push me to be the best that I can be,” Russ said. “I’m really grateful to be here and have all the support of the city behind us, which is super awesome.”