Maryland's head volleyball coach Steve Aird knew that the inaugural season in the B1G would be an uphill battle. Ultimately his goal has been for the team to have fun and play with abandon every night while teaching them what it takes to compete at the highest level. Entering Sunday's match at Nebraska, the Terps had only won one set in their last five matches. Though they dropped the match three sets to one, simply winning a set against the nation's eleventh ranked team demonstrated some growth.
In addition to winning a set, another way to mark a team's progress is to compare the results from the previous meeting. On November 1st, Nebraska swept Maryland 3-0 and held the Terps to a .100 hitting percentage. There were a few differences this time around though. Instead of a match at the Xfinity Center in front of 1000 Terp fans, this match would be in Lincoln in front of more than 8000 Husker fans. Nebraska typically draws the largest home crowds in the country year after year. Let's see how the matches compare.
Set one - a little better and a little worse
Initially, set one shaped up as though it might be competitive. Maryland held a very early lead at 2-1 and, after a block by Chavi St. Hill and Ashlyn MacGregor, trailed by only one at 5-4. However, Nebraska asserted themselves and won 10 of the next 13 points to take a 15-7 lead into the media timeout.
Coming back onto the court, the teams alternated kills four four points and the lead remained eight at 17-9 before a Maryland timeout. Unfortunately for the Terps, the point trading continued until the Huskers strung together four points to reach set point at 24-13. But the Terrapins showed some heart and staved off four set points behind kills from Hailey Murray and Emily Fraik, some strong serving by Whitney Craigo, and a pair of blocks that forced a Nebraska timeout before the Cornhuskers closed out the set at 25-17.
The stats tell the story. Maryland hit .188 versus .387 for Nebraska. The Cornhuskers sided out 70 percent while the Terrapins managed only 47 percent in that crucial phase of the game. The Terps had played a highly competitive first set in College Park losing 25-23 when they hit .321 and had 62 percent sideouts. The Cornhuskers were slightly better in siding out at 66 percent but they hit an overpowering .542 in that match.
Set two - Overpowered
Once again, early in the second set, it looked like the Terps would make a competitive run at the Cornhuskers. After senior outside hitter Ashleigh Crutcher picked up her first kill of the set and fifth of the match, Maryland held a 6-5 lead. As they did in the first set, Nebraska raised their level of play and took advantage of some Terrapins' errors to out score Maryland 10-2 and take a 15-8 lead. The Huskers looked determined to prevent a repeat of the first set and never relented cruising to a 25-14 set win.
Here are the second set comparisons between the two matches: At Maryland, Nebraska won another close set 25-22. The Cornhuskers hit .171 but held the Terps to -.032 meaning Maryland had more attack errors than they had kills. In Lincoln, the home team hit .273 and the visitors hit .000. Nebraska sided out at 54 percent in College Park and 73 percent in Lincoln. Maryland's comparables were 47 and 41 percent respectively.
Third set - Dramatic improvement
At different times this season, the Maryland team and coaches have found a way to utilize the 10 minute break in between sets two and three to make a few changes and dramatically improve their team's performance. That was the case again on Sunday.
The third set was a compete reversal of fortunes for the Terps. Two or three early Nebraska errors combined with Maryland kills to bolster the Terps' confidence and stake them to an early 6-2 lead. Nebraska had closed to within 7-5 but MacGregor and Fraik combined for a block that MacGregor followed with a series of strong serves that saw Maryland run off six consecutive points and jump out to a 13-5 lead.
As the set progressed, junior Emily Fraik added 3 kills to push the lead to 16-8. In a number of matches this season, Maryland has been unable to respond after teams edge out to leads of five or more points and, because they feel no pressure from the Terps, are comfortable trading points to close out a set. This was the role the Terrapins adopted in the third set at Lincoln.
Both teams alternated scoring until a Nebraska hitting error led to their final timeout with Maryland leading 22-14. Fraik added 2 more kills including the set winner and the Terps had taken a set from Nebraska, 25-18. Maryland hit a red hot .423 with 13 kills and sided out at 63 percent while holding the Huskers to 11 kills, 45 percent sideouts, and a .062 hitting percentage. Nebraska had handled the Terps easily in the third set at Maryland winning 25-16 while hitting .346 and siding out at 64 percent. By contrast, Maryland his just .032 and managed only 41 percent on their sideout opportunities.
Fourth set - May the better team win
The Cornhuskers got out to an early 5-1 lead in the fourth set but Terps recaptured some of their third set momentum rallying to 9-8 and forcing a quick Nebraska timeout. The set remained close with Maryland able to stay within two when Crutcher's 11th kill pulled the Terps within two at 17-15. The Terps followed with a service error and a Nebraska kill. Sensing the set possibly slipping away, Aird called a Maryland timeout with the Huskers in the lead 19-15. But the Cornhuskers had regained their footing and confidence and Nebraska kills mixed in with Maryland attack errors allowed them to close out the match 25-18.
Fraik led Maryland with 13 kills on .205 efficiency followed by senior Ashleigh Crutcher with 12 kills. Sophomore middle Ashlyn McGregor added 5 kills with .444 efficiency and 4 block assists. Maryland hit .187 against Nebraska's .277 with 8 total blocks.
Wrapping it up
Maryland definitely took some positive strides in front of an imposing crowd and hopefully can use some of the lessons to continue to in their last two weeks of conference play. With three of four of the last matches at home, there are a few opportunities to post some wins to wrap up the first season in the B1G though nothing will be easy. The Terps host Minnesota on Wednesday and Penn State on Saturday. Both matches are at 7:00 pm respectively and both can be seen on BTN2Go.