Maryland volleyball glided past Rutgers in each of the first two sets on Wednesday and seemed poised to polish off an early-season sweep of the Scarlet Knights.
But Rutgers came alive in the third frame and staved off what would have been its third-straight defeat via sweep to begin Big Ten play. The Scarlet Knights fed off their newfound momentum and traded blows with the Terps as the fourth frame progressed. Each Rutgers point further threatened to push Wednesday’s match to a decisive fifth set.
It was the type of situation that drew senior pin hitter Samantha Schnitta to College Park.
“The Big Ten for volleyball is, like, the best it can be,” Schnitta said in the preseason. “I knew I wanted to be competitive and I wanted to step in and be able to help and support a team.”
And with the pressure on, Schnitta delivered.
The Ole Miss transfer belted her fourth kill of the fourth set and landed a service ace that fueled a vital four-point run to push the Terps’ lead to 15-9. Schnitta provided another putaway later in the frame and finished with a match-high 16 kills as Maryland held off Rutgers’ comeback and improved to 2-1 in conference play.
Schnitta’s performance was the latest in the string of impressive outings she’s sewn together during her first season with the Terps. The pin hitter tallied double-digit kills in six of the 10 matches she’s appeared in and averages 2.84 kills per set, second most on the team.
Schnitta, who stands 6-feet tall, admitted in the preseason to being “a little bit undersized” compared to other Big Ten defenders and said it was challenging in practice to adjust her offensive game.
“I have to be able to work around the blocks and get to the ball before [defenders] get to me,” she said.
So far, Schnitta’s stayed ahead.
The senior has led Maryland in kills in two of its first three Big Ten matches and has dumped five service aces during that span. Her 4.25 points per set in Big Ten play rank 10th in the conference, while her 42.5 total points during that span rank fifth. Schnitta has also proven herself as a reliable offensive weapon in the match’s most critical stages — 22 of her 34 kills in conference play have come after the second set.
“She is the type of person who is not afraid of the scenario,” coach Adam Hughes said.
Schnitta made that clear in her Big Ten debut in College Park on Sept. 22.
Already down a set against then-No. 19 Purdue, Maryland trailed 19-16 in the second frame when Hughes inserted Schnitta off the bench.
The senior tallied three late putaways, including one that knotted the set at 21-21. The Terps dropped the set, but Schnitta picked up her team with an eight-kill barrage in the third frame and piled on five more putaways in the fourth frame to give her a team-leading 16 in the match, one Maryland ultimately lost 3-1.
“In my head, I told myself that they don’t know my name, they don’t know my number, they don’t know who I am,” Schnitta said after the match. “So, use it to your advantage.”
Schnitta’s shining league debut earned her a start in Maryland’s next game two days later against Michigan. She was less aggressive on the attack, registering just two kills on seven swings, and instead did her damage from the endline, where she laced a season-high three service aces in the Terps’ 3-0 win.
But against the Scarlet Knights, Schnitta pounded away from the outside. She clubbed eight kills throughout the first two frames as Maryland seized a two-set lead and tacked on three more during the Terps’ attempt at a sweep. And amid the mounting tension in the fourth set, Maryland’s steady-handed senior calmly stepped up and drove home five more kills to steer Maryland away from the threat of a do-or-die fifth frame.
“Sometimes people want to try to find an easier path to get through it,” Hughes said. “She’s okay with taking the hard challenge, the hard path, and has believed that she can go get it.”
It’s a mentality that has helped the Terps climb above .500 in conference play for the first time since they were 1-0 after upsetting then-No. 2 Wisconsin on Sept. 24, 2021. With 17 games remaining in a Big Ten schedule that currently features eight matchups against ranked opponents, Schnitta is confident she and the Terps are prepared for the opportunities that await.
“I think we can compete with any of those big dogs,” she said.