Coming off a tough weekend in Carolina where they dropped back to back matches, the Maryland volleyball team got back on the winning track at Comcast Pavilion Wednesday night defeating the Pittsburgh Panthers three sets to one. "We played North Carolina well on Friday taking the number 12 team in the country to 10-10 in the fifth set but not closing it out. Then we didn't respond well on Saturday so today was a big day for us to see who we were going to be. It was kind of a gut check to see if we were going to do whatever it took to win," coach Tim Horsman said after the game. As with all team sports the win required contributions from several players but for Maryland, the night belonged largely to two stars - Ashley Crutcher and Sarah Harper. Read on to learn why.
The night started slowly for the Terps as they dropped a closely fought first set. After trading the first six points Maryland edged in front, as freshman Whitney Craigo served then set up Adreene Elliott and Ashleigh Crutcher for back to back kills. Maryland held on to the two point margin after a great dig by Harper helped set up a block by Elliott and Kelsey Hrebenach. However, the Panthers rallied to take five of the next seven and edge in front 10-9. The Terps responded with two straight to blunt the Panther's edge but Pitt then seemed to wrest control of the set building a three point margin that they maintained for the middle portion of the set. But the Terps weren't quite down for the count as they eventually caught and passed the Panthers at 21-20 on an ace by Harper. The flow of the set moved back to Pitt and the visitors closed out the set again scoring five of seven to win by a final margin of 25-23.
The teams came into the night with similar records both overall (MD at 11-11 and Pitt at 12-11) and in the ACC (MD 3-7 Pitt 4-6) and if the first set was closely played between relatively evenly matched teams, the second was even closer. Maryland started off well winning the first two points behind Amy Dion's serve. But in a recurring theme, Pittsburgh won five of seven points to take a 5-4 lead. Maryland then mirrored Pitt's run to go up 9-7. With the Terps up 11-9, came the point that may have swung all the momentum of the night in Maryland's favor. On the longest point of the night, Sarah Harper turned into a flipper on an old fashioned pinball machine making a total of five digs. The first got the crowd excited. The second raised the volume. By the time she made her fifth spectacular dig, the crowd was on their feet and roaring. They got even louder when Crutcher took a set from Craigo and found an open spot in the back left corner of the court. It looked as though the Terps would cruise from there as they opened up a five point lead at 17-12 and sat at set point with a 24-19 advantage. But the Panthers clawed back into the set scoring five in a row to knot the score at twenty-four all. Ending the set in a fitting way, an emphatic kill by Crutcher gave Maryland a sideout and another set point that Harper followed with a service ace and the teams went into the break tied at one set each. Crutcher finished the set with a phenomenal nine kills and .471 hitting percentage while Harper put up an equally astonishing number putting up ten digs.
The Terps came roaring out of the break in the third set opening a quick 6-1 lead. Crutcher, still playing the part of a lethal killing machine, was joined by was joined in the fun with an occasional ace from Mary Cushman or kill from Kelsey Hrebenach, notched her twentieth kill of the match on a point that put the Terrapins up by seven at 15-8. A mini run by Pitt closed the gap to four at 18-14 but a sideout kill by Elliott followed by a Cushman kill and a Hrebenach ace effectively put the set away. The Terps closed out the set winning by ten.
The fourth set looked as though it would be more of the same with Maryland racing out to an early 6-2 lead behind back to back aces by Harper and a block by Hrebenach and Crutcher. With their lead standing at 9-5, the Terps appeared to lose a bit of focus and momentum and the Panthers pounced going on a 9-1 tear to take a 14-10 lead. Sarah Harper who needed to make only two digs in the dominant Terrapins third set, made another spectacular dig to extend the next point eventually setting up an Elliott kill that brought Maryland within three at 14-11 and slowed Pittsburgh's momentum. Slowed because Pitt managed to maintain that slim working margin through a 21-18 edge. A sideout kill by Elliott, who had several important kills in the set, pulled the Terps within one and Crutcher's kill on the next point evened the score at twenty-two. The two powerful kills capping the comeback once again had the crowd noisily urging the Terps on and they became nearly delirious when Emily Fraik's kill put Maryland back in front. With the score tied at twenty-four, two emphatic kills by Ashleigh Crutcher closed out the match and shortened the trip to South Bend for Friday's match with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Crutcher finished the night with exactly half of Maryland's 48 kills for the match on an exceptional .467 hitting percentage. The junior notched a double-double adding ten digs. Amy Dion, who seems to be improving as a setter match by match, also had a double-double with twelve digs to go along with her team leading 22 assists. After the match Sarah Harper said, "When I first came to Maryland I was just hoping to be able to travel with the team." The senior from Charlottesville has managed a bit more than that and her team leading 21 digs moved her within 45 of becoming Maryland's all-time leader in that category. After their match in South Bend, the Terps will return home to tackle Wake Forest on November 8.