When Maryland volleyball walked off of its home court after being swept by Illinois on Oct. 7, its season looked like it was beginning to crumble.
The Terps had just dropped their fifth-straight Big Ten match to open their conference slate and were facing a three-game road trip that threatened to further derail their season. Instead they swept all three of their opponents.
“Road trips are definitely not easy, especially in the Big Ten,” sophomore libero Milan Gomillion said. “These places have big venues, they’re selling out these games … I think we handled it really well and we stayed composed and we just battled.”
Now, it’s Maryland’s turn to bask in the familiar roar of a Big Ten home crowd. The Terps will look to vault themselves even further up the Big Ten standings in a pair of home bouts against No. 13 Penn State and Northwestern.
Maryland has a shot at redemption after the Nittany Lions rallied from a two-set deficit and defeated the Terps last season in College Park.
But for Gomillion, dwelling on what happened last season doesn’t bring the team any closer to its goals for this year.
“I definitely think it’s in the back of my head, but at the same time, the past is the past and there’s so much in the future that we can grow on and learn from last year as well,” she said.
“A team like Penn State, they’re not going to give us free points … we’re gonna have to earn every point, but it’s just a matter of closing and knowing we need to close,” Gomillion said.
It’s a different-looking Penn State team this year with a new coach, Katie Schumacher-Cawley. She has stepped in and led the Nittany Lions to a 15-4 record that includes wins over Illinois, Indiana and Michigan State — teams that have already defeated the Terps this season.
Schumacher-Cawley took over for legendary Penn State coach Russ Rose, who mentored Maryland coach Adam Hughes, a former volleyball operations director at Penn State. Rose retired following the 2021 season after 43 years at the helm.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Katie and what she’s trying to do with the program. It’s a very tough position for her to be in,” Hughes said. “It’ll be weird looking across the net, not seeing coach Rose there. As someone who was a big mentor for me … this will be a weird match.”
Hughes’ squad will take on a more familiar opponent the next night as Northwestern visits College Park just eight days after the teams squared off in Evanston, Illinois.
In that match, the Terps held star outside hitter Temi Thomas-Ailara to a season-low .028 hitting percentage en route to their second straight sweep.
While it may be easy to overlook a team it has already beaten, Maryland is not taking any opponent for granted.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to be that kind of cocky team,” Hughes said. “When I took over the program, I was very clear that I wanted the entire program to prepare like we are playing for the most important match because it’s all that we have control [of] in front of us.”
Instead, the Terps are locked in on the current task at hand: beating Penn State for the first time since joining the Big Ten in 2014.
And even though they just earned a critical road victory over a top-10 opponent in their last match against Purdue, the Terps know they still have much to prove within a loaded Big Ten conference.
“I would say staying humble knowing that we have to battle, you know. We’re not exactly at the top,” Gomillion said. “We’re definitely considered an underdog and [we’re] hungry to go get these bigger teams.”