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Volleyball opens the ACC season with a thrilling five set win over Georgia Tech

In a match that repeatedly brought the crowd to its feet, a depleted Terrapin squad starts off on the right foot in their final ACC season.

No matter what I write it will not adequately conjure the electric atmosphere in the Comcast Pavilion Friday night. It won't relate the excitement, effort, and emotion of Maryland's thrilling five set win over Georgia Tech in the ACC season opener for both squads. Perhaps a better writer could appropriately convey the intensity and inspire some of his readers to come to the gym to watch this team compete but in lieu of that person, I'll have to make the effort.

Tech came out of the gate quickly in the first set opening an immediate 3-0 lead but Maryland answered quickly with two Adreene Elliott kills sandwiching an ace by Mary Cushman to knot the set at three. The Terps trailed 6-4 when a Yellow Jackets service error gave Maryland the side out. The tying point came on a long rally with both teams digging balls that appeared to be winner when they were hit. In the end, Maryland's defense prevailed and Tech's last attack flew long. Maryland took their first lead at 7-6 and a few moments later an ace by Emily Fraik, who would have an outstanding night for the Terps, gave Maryland a 9-7 advantage.

Tech bounced back to tie and the set settled in to a back and forth affair with neither team able to gain more than a one point advantage. With Tech serving and the score tied at fourteen, senior libero Sarah Harper made a sprawling dig that not only saved a point but that turned into a perfect pass for freshman setter Julia Anderson to pick up one of her team leading 27 assists setting up a kill from Fraik. However, the Jackets' wrested back the momentum and took an 18-16 lead and forced Coach Tim Horsmon to call a time out. Coming back on the court, Mary Cushman who was honored before the game for becoming the eighth Maryland player with 1100 kills, earned another and a side out for the Terrapins. Behind Harper's serve, the Terps captured four straight points including a rare kill from middle blocker Catie Coyle to take a 21-18 lead. With Maryland leading 24-20 and Julia Anderson serving for the set, the teams played a point that probably lasted longer than the time it took you to read my recap to this point. The Terps closed the set on a kill off the reliable right arm of Adreene Elliott.

If the first set started poorly for Maryland, the second was even worse as Tech bolted to a 5-0 lead and the Terps never recovered. The visitors from Atlanta simply dominated play improving their team hitting percentage to .294 while Maryland's fell to .132 as the Terps could draw no closer than four giving Tech a comfortable 25-18 win. The third set was a taut affair featuring fourteen ties and four lead changes. Maryland's 5-3 lead was the largest for either squad until the Terps matched it when they pulled ahead 18-16. A questionable decision on a pancake dig by Georgia Tech on a blistering spike down the middle by Cushman seemed to ignite the Terps. The disputed point drew the Jackets' within one at 20-19 and gave them a side out. However, a kill from another unexpected source, freshman middle blocker Ashlyn MacGregor, won back the serve immediately for the Terps. With Sarah Harper serving, a back row kill by Emily Fraik, followed by a block by Kelsey Hrebenach and Catie Coyle, and a kill by Hrebenach brought the Terps to set point. Tech made the attack error and Maryland had a two sets to one lead.

The fourth set was something of a combination of sets two and three. The first half of the set was highly competitive with Maryland taking the first point and the teams more or less trading points until the score stood tied at nine. Tech took their first lead at 10-9 on an ace but the Terps bounced back to knot the score at ten. From that point, it was all Georgia Tech as they slowly pulled away to a 25-19 win sending Maryland into their second consecutive five set match and fourth of the season.

The deciding set started off decidedly slowly for Maryland and Georgia Tech carried over their momentum to take an early 8-5 lead. The turning point of the set may have come with the Terps trailing 9-6 on a big effort by Catie Coyle. Tech blocked the junior's attack putting the ball right back a Coyle. The junior reacted quickly and pushed the ball into the net before finding an open spot on the floor to pull the Terps within two. A powerful kill by Cushman brought the crowd out of their seats and the Terps within one. Maryland finally pulled even behind at eleven behind Dani Bozzini's serve. With both teams going full out all over the floor, they swapped points before an ace by Kelsey Hrebenach (coming as Horsmon tried and failed to insert a sub for her) gave Maryland a crucial 13-12 edge. Fittingly, with the score tied at 14, Emily Fraik, who posted a double-double with 12 digs and a career high 16 kills closed out the match with a kill and a point on her serve. Mary Cushman, also had a double-double with 15 digs and 17 kills.

Elsewhere on this site, there's much talk of the football team overcoming injuries with an attitude of "next man up." Well, I'm going to editorialize and say that they have little or nothing on the Terrapins volleyball squad. I can't list all the assorted bumps and bruises that these athletes play through but I will point out a few. With All-ACC outside hitter Ashleigh Crutcher sidelined for a indeterminate period with a rib injury, All-ACC middle blocker Adreene Elliott has stepped to the very unfamiliar position of outside hitter. Sophomore Emily Fraik has stepped up and had double digit kills in each of the last two matches. When the setter from last year's team transferred unexpectedly at the end of the summer, and freshman Whitney Craigo out with an injury, another freshman, walk-on Julia Anderson, stepped in to share setting duties with Amy Dion - a player who had never played the position at any point in her volleyball career. And of course, it's almost impossible to describe the effort of Mary Cushman who plays match after match with a torn rotator cuff. And I want all the tough guys out there to imagine spiking a volleyball with a torn rotator cuff. As Horsmon says, "I don't have enough great words to say about Mary and her competitiveness and her toughness."

Maryland will take on Clemson Sunday afternoon at two o'clock and I hope I've inspired some of you to come out and watch.