A tough weekend
Before they left College Park, the Maryland volleyball team knew this weekend would present a tough and challenging road trip. The Terps faced matches with two top 20 squads in their matches at Ohio State and Penn State. The Terps made the Buckeyes work a bit for their 3-1 win and though they never challenged the Nittany Lions in the home team's 3-0 sweep, they did play a quality set against a squad that may be playing as well as anyone in the country at this time.
Opening some Buckeyes
Friday night featured Maryland visiting the #18 Ohio State Buckeyes. The Terps entered the match with a statistical edge in blocking and may have been hoping to use that advantage to pull the upset. The first set started slowly for Maryland with the Buckeyes forcing a timeout at 14-7. Two Ohio State attacking errors led to a Buckeye timeout after the Terps closed the gap to trail by five at 16-11. Maryland would give up points on an ace and a hitting error and take their final timeout down by a score of 19-12. The two teams traded points but an Erin Sekinger kill would close out the set 25-16. Maryland hit .000 and only produced only three kills.
The second set was a major improvement with the Terps never trailing and siding out at 66 percent. Senior Ashleigh Crutcher dominated play with 8 kills in the set. With the match tied at a set apiece and momentum on Maryland's side, it might have been safe to assume that the Terps would be in position to compete for the match. The Buckeyes, however, had different plans. Ohio State grabbed total control and they cruised to 25-19 and 25-12 set wins.
Maryland hit negative in both the third and fourth sets while averaging only 6.5 kills per set. Crutcher carried the Terps offensively with 16 kills on .244 efficiency. The only other player in positive territory was junior outside hitter Emily Fraik who hit just .095.
Into the Lions' den
The second match of the weekend at Penn State would be a homecoming for Coach Aird and assistant coach Adam Hughes. In front of 3400 fans, the result would not be what they hoped. The Nittany Lions are currently ranked sixth in the country and return four starters from last year's national championship team. Penn State jumped out to a 14-5 lead in the first set before a Maryland timeout. It didn't help much. From that point, the Nittany Lions would go on an 11-6 run to finish off the set, 25-11. Penn State hit a ridiculous .737 with 15 kills versus -.037 and 8 kills for the Terps.
As they had the night before in Columbus, Maryland raised their game in the second set keeping the score close prior to their first timeout at 15-11 Penn State. Two Crutcher kills kept the Terps in the set at 20-16. However, Penn State would score five of the next seven points and win the second set 25-18.
Although Maryland improved their hitting with 10 kills and .125 efficiency the Nittany Lions continued their torrid offensive pace with 15 kills and a .538 hitting percentage. Penn State finally came back to earth in the third set (.273 hitting percentage) but the Terps also dropped off a bit from their second set effort. The Nittany Lions took an early 7 point lead and never let up, comfortably finishing off Maryland 25-15. Crutcher again was the lone bright spot offensively with 16 kills and a .314 hitting percentage.
As the team's principal offensive weapon, Crutcher has been playing at an All-Conference level for Maryland. The major challenge is having the rest of the team develop more consistency add some offensive options as teams key more and more on the senior outside hitter. Better balance and consistent ball control will be needed for the final six matches of the season. Next week is no easier for the Terps with trips to #12 Purdue on Wednesday and #13 Nebraska on Sunday.