Sydney Dowler was minutes away from her long-awaited homecoming as she warmed up for Maryland volleyball’s match at then-No. 3 Wisconsin last November.
Dowler, who grew up about 50 miles east of Madison, had never played a collegiate volleyball game in her home state during her first two seasons. A throng of family members and a group of Dowler’s friends packed into the UW Fieldhouse to watch the setter orchestrate the Terps’ offense.
They never got the chance.
Dowler fell ill shortly before the match and didn’t play in the Terps’ 3-0 loss. It was the only match she missed all of last season.
“I was pretty heartbroken that I wasn’t able to play in front of all of them,” she said. “They all came to support me, which I was so grateful for, so that was pretty hard.”
The sting of last year has stuck with Dowler throughout her 11-month wait for another opportunity to play in her home state. She’ll get her next shot Sunday when Maryland travels to No. 1 Wisconsin, trying to beat a No.1 ranked team for the first time in program history. And just like last time, Dowler will have a personal cheering section, one that spans multiple generations.
“I have, like, 18 family members that are coming,” Dowler said. “My grandparents have never seen me play a college game in person, so I’m just stoked that they get to be there.”
Dowler, who leads the Terps in assists, said her five-month-old nephew will also be in the crowd and she expects a few of her friends from elementary school who showed up to last year’s match to be there. Dowler’s cheering squad has a handful of ties to the Badgers. She said her grandfather is a Wisconsin alum while her sister and her friends from elementary school currently attend the university.
“It’s just an exciting moment for me to be back home surrounded by a ton of people that I love,” Dowler said. “As soon as I step out there, the excitement will settle down. I’ll just be pretty ready to compete.”
Dowler began feeling fatigued during warmups before last year’s game at Wisconsin, Maryland’s first against the reigning NCAA champions after it stunned the then-No. 2 Badgers in College Park in 2021 by winning 3-2.
Dowler sought treatment before the match, only to learn she had a 103-degree fever and was not allowed to play. Relegated to the same status as those who came to cheer her on, she could only sit and watch. The Terps fell short in a close first frame before they faded en route to their straight-set loss, a recurring fate among the Big Ten squads that have crossed paths with Wisconsin this year.
The top-ranked Badgers are undefeated entering Friday and have not dropped a single set throughout their first six conference matches. However, Dowler was on the court when Maryland shocked Wisconsin two years ago — dishing out 43 assists and racking up a season-high six blocks. She said the Terps relish being an underdog against top-level talent.
“We just like to compete,” she said. “We want to play tough volleyball, we want to play tough teams. We love the challenge.”