Maryland volleyball’s signature stinginess at the net has been less apparent in the 2023 season so far. The Terps are currently tied for 21st in Division 1 in total blocks, a considerable slide after leading the nation in blocking in each of the past two seasons.
Still, Maryland is thriving behind a deeper and more diverse attack that has been integral to the Terps’ 10-2 start entering Big Ten play, which begins Friday against No. 19 Purdue in College Park.
Maryland is averaging 13.3 kills per set throughout its first 12 matches this season, up from 11.8 a year ago. The Terps’ increased production hasn’t come at the expense of efficiency — the team’s attacks per set and errors per set in 2023 are roughly the same as last season’s rates.
Their flourishing production stems from their ability to play at various speeds, something the team lacked last season, according to coach Adam Hughes. He added last season’s plain and predictable offense made it easier for defenses to throw off Maryland’s timing.
“We’ve actually got enough confidence now that we’re opening it up where there’s a lot more variability,” Hughes said.
That variability paid dividends for the Terps through their nonconference slate. Maryland has racked up at least 40 kills in a match 10 times, something last year’s offense did only seven times through its first 12 games. The Terps have also played seven matches this season in which five different players finished with at least five kills. The team achieved that feat just four times last year before they got to Big Ten play.
Hughes credited the team’s three setters — Sydney Dowler, Erin Engel and Zoe Huang — for helping the Terps diversify their offense. Dowler, who leads the Big Ten with 10.05 assists per set, has done “a phenomenal job” in keeping Maryland’s attack balanced, Hughes said.
“She’s good at setting balls from 8, 10, 12 feet and keeping us in rhythm,” Hughes said. “It takes a lot of pressure off the passers because [they] don’t have to be so perfect. [They] can kind of let her go do her thing.”
Dowler’s dimes have helped Maryland strike from multiple areas on the court. Outside hitter Sam Csire’s team-leading 110 kills make her the Terps’ primary threat from the wing, while middle blockers Anastasia Russ and Eva Rohrbach have a combined for 160 kills.
As a result, Hughes’ squad features one of the conference’s most balanced attacks. Maryland enters Big Ten play with eight players who have notched at least 25 kills this season, more than any other team in the league.
“I think that’s the best part about it,” Hughes said. “We don’t have someone who’s going to win the match by themselves. We need four or five people that are all gonna be able to produce offensively.”
Russ and Rohrbach have been the Terps’ most efficient contributors. The pair ranks first and third, respectively, in the Big Ten in hitting percentage. The middle-blocking duo has complemented its clean swings on offense with 94 combined blocks for a defense that registers 2.72 per set, fourth-best in the conference.
Maryland isn’t blocking as often — the Terps entered conference play last season averaging 3.38 blocks per set — but the team’s deeper and more diverse attack is a welcome change for Hughes as his team enters the brunt of its schedule.
“I don’t want to get rid of our identity as being a really good defensive team, but our mojo has kind of flipped a little bit,” Hughes said. “It’s kind of fun as a coach to see us … win in different ways.”