Indiana's Big Ten Volleyball contingent made made their first foray to the east coast on this first weekend in October and gave the conference's newest members an education in B1G volleyball. While the Purdue Boilermakers were sweeping Rutgers Friday night, the Indiana Hoosiers defeated the Maryland Terrapins three sets to one. Sunday, those roles were reversed. The Hoosiers swept Rutgers while the 15th ranked Boilermakers took a three sets to one win over the Terps.
A distressingly slow start
With a DJ, members of the pep band, and the largest crowd in eight years on hand to watch, Maryland's volleyball squad took the court to face the Indiana Hoosiers in the Terrapins' first ever Big Ten home conference game. The Hoosiers, who are not expected to be among the conference elite but who are accustomed to even more intense environments came out as the sharper squad jumping out to a 4-0 lead in the first set.
The Terps worked their way back into the set behind some strong swings and a block from freshman middle blocker Hailey Murray and knotted things up at six all. With the energy returning to the crowd, the teams traded the next dozen points with neither squad able to gain any separation. But a sideout kill followed by two Maryland errors gave the visitors a 15-12 edge.
Following a Maryland timeout, the Terps fought back and had the serve with a chance to square the score at seventeen. At this point, the match became all about Indiana's Taylor Lebo. Lebo, who entered the match fifth in the NCAA in service aces, won a sideout on a kill and then unleashed a jump serve that caused shock and awe on Maryland's side of the net. Although she was only credited with a single ace, her serve created error after error by the Terps and the Hoosiers closed out the set 25-15 behind a run of eight straight points on Lebo's serve.
The Terps didn't fare much better in the second set. Perhaps wanting to take advantage of Lebo's serving prowess, Indiana coach Sherry Dunbar-Kruzan changed the rotation a bit to have Lebo as the third server. The strategy worked. The strategy worked. The Terps trailed 5-4 and had the serve but, as she had in the first set, Lebo won a sideout and stepped back to serve. The devastation wasn't quite as rampant but the Hoosiers did run off three more points on her serve to open a 9-4 working margin.
The story of the set was as much a story of Maryland's errors as it was Indiana's sharp play. If they are to compete in the B1G, the Terps have a minimal margin of error. The second set saw Maryland make eight attack errors - resulting in a .000 hitting percentage - and add two serving errors and two service return errors. Gift a Big Ten team 12 points and the math is simple. It becomes a 25-16 set loss.
Asked the reason for his team's sluggish start, Maryland's head coach Steve Aird responded, "Bad coaching. I have to find a way to get a team ready from the beginning and I had three days to prepare them so it's on me."
Is this the same team?
Aird certainly had his team ready to play the third set. Though Indiana won the first two points, Maryland bounced right back with a run of three to take a 3-2 lead. The teams battled to an 8-8 tie before the Terps won a sideout on a kill by Emily Fraik. Behind some fine serving by sophomore Carlotta Oggioni, Maryland ran off five more to get a good working margin at 14-9.
The excitement was short lived, however, as Indiana bounced back with a comparable run to tie the score at fourteen. The squads traded the next eight points but with the score tied at 18, the visitors ran off four straight to take a 22-18 lead and looked to be in good position to wrap up the match.
But the Terrapins refused to quit. They began to dig ball all over the court. They returned every serve and clawed their way even at 23 all. The crowd grew raucous. Some familiar (and soon to be very familiar) faces dropped by
dancing, cheering and joining in the fun and excitement. Back and forth it went. Set point Terps. Match point Hoosiers. Four more times Maryland fought off match point. Then Indiana fought off two Maryland set point chances. The crowd exhaled and erupted when Emily Fraik and Chavi St. Hill combined to block Taylor Lebo's kill attempt and give the Terrapins a gritty, hard fought 33-31 set win.
Maryland carried that momentum into the fourth set. The Terps' front row turned into veritable blocking machines picking up three blocks in front of Fraik's serving to open an early 7-1 lead. With the crow urging them on, they continued playing confidently never allowing Indiana closer than five and opening their widest margin at 16-8. They held a 17-10 lead when the momentum pendulum swung back toward the Hoosiers.
Perhaps sensing this swing, Aird called a timeout after a mere two point run by Indiana. The squads spit two points and Maryland still led by five at 18-13 but the visitors raised their play and the Terps were slow to respond. Indiana won seven of the next eight points and, at 20-19 took their first lead since the first point of the set. The Terps hung in - fighting to keep the score tied at 22 all - but the Hoosiers could taste the win and closed out the match with three straight points.
Asked about the drop off in the final set, the coach said, "Good teams will always make a run and teams that aren't used to winning don't have the confidence that they can close out a match. When the pressure ramps up, they find ways to lose." He added, "We get stuck in certain rotations where the staff tells them that they need to do A, B and C to get out of it and it takes four or five chances for them to do it. But again that comes back to me. I've got to get them to understand the skills and why I'm asking them to do stuff and then be confident enough do those skills."
A shocking first set
With a respectable crowd (for Maryland) of 751 on hand to watch the Terps take on the 15th ranked Purdue Boilermakers, the first two points of the set looked to be the slow starting business as usual for Maryland. Before Charlie XCX could shout BOOM! CLAP! Purdue registered a kill followed quickly by a Maryland attack error and a quick 2-0 advantage. But then something strange happened. A blocking error by the visitors ignited a five point Terrapins run with the final four points coming on Emily Fraik's two aces and two Boilermakers errors. Things were going better than expected. The crowd was paying attention. Although they'd just lost the serve, the Terps held a 5-3 lead.
Despite the crowd urging the home team on, Purdue worked their way back into the set and took a 10-8 lead. But a service error and a back row kill by Ashleigh Crutcher brought the Terps back to even at ten all. With the score tied at 12, Fraik put one down to get Maryland a sideout and a one point lead. As happened on Fraik's first service rotation, the Terrapins picked up another run of four more points. With a 17-13 Maryland lead, the crowd's excitement continued to build and they began to sense a possible Maryland win.
Purdue, however, is an experienced squad that has face the B1G gauntlet and isn't easily rattled. They gradually worked their way back picking up a 2-1 run here and another there until they squared the score at 22 all. But the Terrapins stayed focused and never let the Boilermakers get the go ahead point. A kill by Crutcher gave Maryland the serve and a set point at 24-23. A kill by Sam Espenesa, who would hit .450 for the match saved the first for Purdue. But a service error gave the Terps a second chance and this time, it was Purdue that made the error and the set belonged to Maryland 26-24.
The Terps completed a set playing about as well as one could expect. Behind a phenomenal .667 hitting percentage from Crutcher, Maryland out hit Pudue .290 to .270. The Terrapins also held the edge in assists (14-13), aces (3-0), digs (13-12), blocks (1-0), and in the all-important sideout percentage (60 percent to 56 percent).
Second set - Competitive but trending down
The opening points of the second set in some ways mirrored the first. The Terps jumped out to the 2-0 lead but the Boilermakers bounced back quickly winning seven of the next eight points to grab a four point lead at 7-3. Maryland earned a sideout to cut their deficit to three at 10-7. They would even the score on a sequence of three consecutive blocks that raised the temperature and the volume in the Xfinity Center Pavilion.
The teams traded the next 10 points and when freshman Hailey Murray and sophomore Chavi St. Hill combined for the Terrapins sixth block of the set, Maryland edged out to a 16-15 lead. The Terps were able to swap points and hold onto that one point margin up to 18-17. Maryland kept things square at 19 but Purdue then ran off six of the next seven points to close the set.
Neither team hit well in the second set. The Boilermakers hit .147 and saw their cumulative percentage drop to .211. On the other side, the Terps hit only .094 and a cumulative .190. Except for block, Purdue had closed every other statistical gap as well.
After the break - All Boilermakers
After the break, the Boilermakers came back to the floor and showed Maryland and the crowd why they are undefeated in conference play and ranked 15th in the country. They jumped out to a 3-0 lead and the closest the Terps would come to evening the score came when Crutcher's ace brought the Terps within one at 4-5. Purdue ran off three straight to extend the lead to 8-4. They gradually built the lead to five, then six, then seven. After Maryland made a tiny push to get back to within five at 19-14, Purdue got serious and won six of the next eight points to close the 25-16 set win.
While the third set had no ties and Maryland never led, the fourth would at least have three ties. Of course they came at one all, two all, and three all. By this time, Purdue had figured out Maryland's strengths and played away from those. They had also determined the Terps' weaknesses and played at them. The set was not particularly competitive and Purdue closed out the match by an identical 25-16 score.
By the end of the match, Purdue held a substantial edge in nearly every statistical category. Their sideout percentage bloomed to a cumulative 65 percent including 76 percent in the final set. For the match, the Boilermakers registered 13 more kills and one more block than the Terps.
Although Maryland lost both matches, the weekend was not a total loss. Fans need to remember that this transition was going to be difficult if the Terps had stayed healthy. With one of their best players, Adreene Elliott, out for the season following knee surgery, the situation becomes that much more difficult. Despite his willingness to bear the responsibility, Maryland faces a wide talent gap and head coach Steve Aird is groping to find ways to patch together a lineup that brings stability and scoring to the floor.
On Sunday against Purdue, he made the unusual choice of reshaping his 6-2 offense. He moved Whitney Craigo, who had been the second setter, to the opposite hitter spot where she could both hit and set while playing all six rotations. The somewhat undersized sophomore acquitted herself reasonably well. Though she only hit .100 on ten attacks, she managed to pick up five kills while playing at an unfamiliar position.
Perhaps because she only took 33 swings on Sunday as opposed to the 50 she took on Friday, Ashleigh Crutcher was able to hit a very respectable .273 picking up 13 digs to go along with her 15 kills to register a double double. She got assistance from a player who may be a budding star for the Terrapins, freshman Hailey Murray. Murray picked up 11 kills on .318 hitting against Indiana and although she had only nine kills against Purdue, she increased her efficiency hitting .389 for the match and .444 over the last three sets.
The "fun" continues for the Terps as they travel to take on 18th ranked Minnesota on Friday and will follow that on Sunday with a match at number six Wisconsin this weekend. On homecoming weekend (October 17-19), Maryland will host Michigan's B1G contingent for matches on Friday and Saturday night.