Most Big Ten teams this season have challenged Maryland volleyball’s defense with multiple attackers.
Purdue tested the Terps in the conference opener with its pair of electric outside hitters, Eva Hudson and Chloe Chicoine, who had 32 kills in the Boilermakers’ 3-1 win.
Meanwhile, Indiana was nearly flawless against Maryland behind the steady swings of Savannah Kjolhede, Kaley Rammelsburg and Candela Alonso-Corcelles, who combined for 33 putaways and two errors in the Hoosiers’ straight-set victory on Oct. 7.
But when the Big Ten’s most proficient attacker lurks on the other side of the net, as will be the case Friday when Illinois visits College Park, the Terps will have an easy time determining the biggest scoring threat.
Maryland will have six pairs of eyes locked on No. 12 for the Fighting Illini: outside hitter Raina Terry, who leads the Big Ten in kills per set.
“She scores in a variety of ways,” coach Adam Hughes said. “One of the things that makes her really special is that she takes good challenges. She might get blocked, but she hasn’t hit a lot of balls out of bounds. She forces you to make plays.”
The Terps’ ability to contain Terry will depend on their back row, a unit that has solidified throughout conference play. The Terps are averaging 14.2 digs per set against Big Ten opponents, three more than they managed throughout the nonconference slate.
Libero Lilly Gunter, whom Hughes called the “anchor” of Maryland’s last line of defense, said the Terps’ toughest task in limiting Terry will be neutralizing her roll shot, an off-speed attack with topspin that can flummox a defense.
Communication and decisiveness are vital to defending that type of shot, especially when it’s dumped toward a vacant spot in the middle of the court.
“It can be anyone’s ball,” Gunter said. “So it’s just being aggressive, like having someone go for it and not question if it’s theirs or not.”
Maryland’s defense has allowed top attackers to seize control of the match. The Terps overcame Jasmine Rivest’s 22 kills in their 3-2 win over Coastal Carolina on Sept. 8 but looked helpless against Northwestern’s Julia Sangiacomo, who bludgeoned Maryland with 27 putaways in a 3-1 Terps loss.
Terry offers a similar challenge. Her game film resembles Sangiacomo’s play style, Gunter said. Both feature an arsenal of attacks and can deploy them across the court with multiple speeds and angles. Sangiacomo’s sharp diagonal cross-court spikes were particularly troublesome for Gunter.
“[Terry] just has a lot of range as a hitter,” said Gunter. “She’s a threat from the back row, which makes everyone’s job a little bit harder, just being aware of her.”
Maryland has focused heavily this week in practice on defending those back row attacks. Freshman outside hitter Sydney Bryant has also effectively modeled Terry’s attacking style when she’s closer to the net to help Gunter.
Despite that preparation, little suggests that the Terps will stymie Illinois’ star hitter. Terry has poured in 52 putaways throughout the Fighting Illini’s last two matches. She cooked Maryland with 38 kills across the teams’ two meetings last season, both of which Illinois won to improve to 13-0 all-time against the Terps.
But Terry has struggled at times during league play, and the Fighting Illini have suffered. She has hit below .200 in half of Illinois’ eight conference games — the team has lost all four of those matches.
If the Terps can stifle Terry, the Fighting Illini will need to rely on a core of far less potent attackers. No Illinois player averages half as many kills per set as Terry’s 5.14.
Maryland has already washed away an all-time drought against a Big Ten opponent this season. The Terps upset then-No. 16 Minnesota in College Park on Oct. 6 for their first-ever win over the Golden Gophers. Keeping Terry, one of the game’s most prolific attackers, in check on Friday could deliver Maryland another historic win.
“It’s going to be an interesting matchup to see what we can do to slow her down,” Hughes said.