Maryland volleyball middle blocker Jada Gardner read No. 8 Wisconsin's pass and shifted right before rising and stuffing a Badger attacker in conjunction with opposite/outside hitter Samantha Drechsel for set point in the second frame Saturday.
For the next Terps point, Gardner stepped right again and blocked a Badger attempt with opposite hitter Angel Gaskin to secure a second-set victory. In Maryland's second top-10 matchup of the weekend, blocking proved to be a pivotal part of staying competitive on the road. Gardner's seven-block performance against the Badgers helped the Terps capture a set in Madison, Wisconsin.
"We've had some of our best blocking nights this weekend," Gaskin said. "Especially Jada, she did a great job. We were around the ball a lot, trying to help out our defense and that was kind of our game plan going into this weekend."
When Gardner arrived in College Park, she possessed more attacking presence than net skills after playing as a hitter in high school. The freshman was thrust into the starting lineup when middle blocker Katie Myers suffered a season-ending knee injury. The steepest learning curve she faced was her blocking game.
At first, Gardner was unsure of her duties. But she said after Maryland's Oct. 27 win over Indiana she felt more comfortable with blocking. She's pressing her hands over the plane of the net now to disrupt the opponent and she feels her timing has become more in rhythm with opponents' jumping.
"[Gardner] asks a lot of questions, which is good," Gaskin said. "She's eager to learn, eager to do better and she's honestly an easy kid to coach. So, whatever feedback she gets she just implements it and does it."
Gaskin said the Terps entered their match against the Badgers wanting to slow down Wisconsin's left-side hitters. Both blocks to close the second frame came against outside hitter Kelli Bates, who Maryland held to a .179 hitting percentage. The squad also limited Wisconsin middle blocker Dana Rettke to nine kills and a .211 attacking clip. Rettke averages 3.33 kills per set and hits at .434 this season.
After Ohio State upset Wisconsin in five sets Friday, outblocking the Badgers, 13-7, coach Steve Aird said he knew the Terps' net game could be an asset in their matchup with the Badgers. Associate head coach Adam Hughes broke down the Ohio State match for Aird and the team, and he formulated a game plan around its serving and blocking.
"The difference between knowing what to do and being able to execute it is really the key in a conference like this," Aird said. "We've got some young players that are learning the how. And they care, and they want to win and want to do good things, it's just the game moves quickly and they need experience."
Aird thought Gardner had an "exceptional blocking night," but his team should have set her the ball more. She had three kills on four attempts. The Terps were outblocked by the Badgers, 11-9, in the four-set defeat.
"Obviously I'm upset every day about Myers," Aird said. "But the beauty of it is, [Gardner's] got the opportunity and she's made the most of it."