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Volleyball Drops a Heartbreaker to Northwestern

After falling in straight sets to 16th ranked Illinois Friday night, Maryland nearly picked up their first BIG win losing in a heart wrenching five sets to Northwestern in Evanston during the opening weekend of conference play.

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It was nearly a B1G moment for Maryland Volleyball on Saturday night as the Terps had two match points in the fifth set before losing in dramatic fashion to the Northwestern Wildcats. Senior outside Ashleigh Cructher and freshman middle Hailey Murray had tremendous nights to take Maryland to the brink of their first conference win against an opponent just out of the top 25.

Saturday's first set looked very similar to many that followers of Maryland volleyball had seen over the last two weeks with Northwestern getting out to a large 18-8 lead and cruising to a 25-15 win. Maryland came alive in the second and third sets with clutch late kills from Crutcher and sophomore middle Ashlyn McGregor. Northwestern then rallied in in the middle of the fourth set to pick up another dominating win before before the teams engaged in an epic, edge of your seat fifth set.

The second set rally

Although they won both the second and third sets by identical 25-23 scores, they went about things a bit differently. In the second set, it looked as though the Wildcats would dominate again as the home team jumped out to 12-7 early lead. After a time out, Maryland began to rally and scored six of the next eight to cut the lead to one at 14-13. The Wildcats looked to be holding off the Terps but a Northwestern service error kicked off a three point Maryland run that allowed  the Teros to grab an 18-17 lead. The squads traded the next two points but the 'Cats strung together a mini-run to take a 21-19 lead and looked to be closing in on the second set.But a feisty Maryland group fought back with their own three point run - a string that featured back to back kills by Crutcher - and the Terps got their noses in front again at 22-21.

Northwestern stopped the run scoring on a sideout after a timeout to knot things up at 22 all. Sophomore setter Carlotta Oggioni found the big arm of Ashleigh Crutcher and a Wildcats ball handling error got the Terrapins their first set point. Northwestern staved off one point but once again, Crutcher came through with the big swing to close things out and give Maryland their first set win in B1G competition.

Third set squeaker

After the break, the teams came out for the third game and again, Northwestern looked sharper through the first few points. However, this time, Maryland reeled them in early. Trailing 6-4, the Terps reeled off five straight to move ahead 9-6. Extending the lead to 14-10, it began to look as though Maryland might keep control of the set. This proved not to be the case, however, as the home team went on a four point run to tie the score at fourteen.

Maryland kept their composure and answered with a three point run to regain the lead. The teams essentially traded the next 14 points with the Wildcats unable to get closer than two until Maryland reached set point with a 24-21 margin. With the Terps about to serve for the set, the Wildcats called timeout and made things a little dicey by scoring the next two points. Northwestern now trailed 24-23, had the serve, and a chance to tie things up. This time it would be sophomore middle Ashlyn MacGregor rather than Crutcher who would get the big kill and close out another 25-23 set win for Maryland.

Fourth set breakdown leads to fifth set drama

The fourth set looked like it would come down to another close finish with neither team able to open more than a two point lead.  in fact, Maryland led 11-9 and the score was tied at 14-14 when the Terrapins' offense broke down late. The Wildcats went on a 6-0 run to take complet control of the set and closed it out 25-16 leading to the fifth and final set.

In the decisive fifth set, which is played to 15 with a margin of two, both teams traded points with Maryland leading at the switch of sides, 8-7. Following a block by Murray and sophomore middle Chavi St. Hill, the Terps took an 11-9 lead hoping to finish off the Wildcats. A kill from Crutcher followed by a service ace from sophomore setter Whitney Craigo had Maryland tantalizingly close to earning their first B1G win with the score at 13-11.But the Wildcats rallied.Two Northwestern kills tied the score at 13.

Then, a Wildcat service error on the next point brought Maryland to match point at 14-13. With the upset looming, the Wildcats looked to fifth year senior outside hitter Katie Dutchman. Dutchman, who ranks third in the conference in hitting percentage showed her experience and made the kill that tied the score at 14-14. The Terps had a second chance to close out the match when Yewane Akanbi made an attack error. The Texas senior would quickly redeem herself picking up the kill to tie the score again at fifteen. Unfortunately two Maryland attack errors, with Akanbi picking up the game winning block on Catie Coyle's attempted kill, closed out the match and delayed history for the moment as the Wildcats secured a 17-15 set and match win.

Crutcher led offensively with 23 kills and a .200 hitting percentage. With nine digs, she nearly picked up a double double. Murray continued her impressive debut season hitting .500 with 12 kills 1.5 blocks. On the defensive side, libero Amy Dion, led Maryland with 23 digs. The Terps hit only .104 for match but had 11 service aces.

A glance at Friday's match

On Friday night at Illinois, Maryland lost to the Fighting Illini in 3 sets (25-13, 25-21, 25-17). The first set was a one-sided affair with Illinois jumping out to a 19-7 lead before a Maryland timeout. The Illini closed out set one 25-13 with two late kills. The second set began in a similar fashion as the first with Illinois leading early 20-11. But the Terps came back behind kills by Murray and Emily Fraik to cut the deficit to four. Illinois pulled away after a Maryland service error and won the second set 25-21. The third and final set began much better for the Terps. They traded points until 13-10 but then Illinois began to pull away. A late five point run by Maryland cut the Illinois lead to five but they were able to finish off the match. The Illini dominated offensively (20 more kills and a .326 hitting percentage). The Terps were led by Crutcher with 8 kills and Murray added 6 kills.

The first weekend in October is a big one for the Terps. Maryland hosts their first home match of the season and Friday night October third marks the first ever B1G home match as the Indiana Hoosiers come to College Park for a 7:30 pm start. The Terps will follow that up when they host #15 Purdue on Sunday afternoon.