As you may know, today isn't just an ordinary day. Today is Veterans Day. It's a day where things like sports are put into perspective. It's a day dedicated to thanking those who stand in service to our country, those brave men and women and sons and daughters who fight abroad so that we can continue to live freely at home.
Maryland head coach Steve Aird is a first-generation American but today is a meaningful day for him too. His grandparents on both sides of his family served in the military and he has cousins in the Canadian Armed Forces. Aird knows the meaning of sacrifice.
While the kind of sacrifice that Aird demands of his players is a wholly different one altogether, there is no denying that Aird has had a profound impact on this team and this program. Coming off of a sweep of No. 12 Ohio State, Maryland's first win against a ranked team in over five years, the Terps were put to the test against a ranked Purdue team that beat them in four sets back in early October.
Maryland took a 9-6 lead over Purdue in the first set. Annie Drews, Purdue's star senior and honorable mention All-American, tied it up at 10 each with a kill. The Boilermakers made it a 6-1 run and Aird called timeout at 12-10 to try and stop the bleeding.
Aird got out of his seat after Maryland lost the first point coming out of the timeout. The Terps dropped the ensuing point and Aird immediately brought Liz Twilley back into the game. Aird isn't typically that animated during matches and tends to keep a steady demeanor but he was clearly disappointed in the effort he was seeing on the court.
Maryland called their final timeout of the set after Purdue took a 19-14 lead. The Boilermakers forced set point at 24-18, but the Terps managed to close the gap to 24-21. Purdue called timeout and both teams traded points, allowing the Boilermakers to take the first set, 25-22.
Elliott had a set to forget. She was targeted 14 times and ended up with five kills and four attack errors. In addition to hitting a paltry .071, the last of her two service errors gave Purdue the first set. Purdue played a far cleaner set and was the better team overall.
Maryland and Purdue battled back and forth throughout the second set. Both teams were tied at 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15. That's 12 ties for those of you squinting your eyes and counting at home or work. The Terrapins took four straight and led 19-15. Dani Bozzini had a nice defensive play that kept the ball alive for Maryland. Liz Twilley finished off the rally with a kill and Maryland went up 22-18. Purdue called timeout.
Angel Gaskin and Twilley combined for a pair of thunderous kills to get the Terps to set point. Twilley got her eighth kill of the match to give Maryland the second set, 25-22.
The Terrapins improved their hitting percentage from .276 in the first set to .464 in the second. They had three service aces and only committed three attack errors. Twilley was instrumental in winning the second set. She had five kills in the second set.
There were seven ties before Maryland hit double digits. The Terps went up 10-8 but Purdue came back to tie it up at 11 apiece. The combination of Sam Epenesa and Danielle Cuttino on the left side was difficult for Maryland to deal with as the pair got two straight blocks and helped tie the match again at 13.
After Purdue took a 15-14 lead, Aird called timeout. The Boilermakers responded by winning the next three points in a row. Two straight attack errors helped Maryland cut the deficit to one but Amy Dion's ensuing serve went into the net.
The Terps came back to tie the match at 21, the 13th tie score in the set. Drews blasted a kill from the left side to give Purdue the lead and an attack error on Elliott pushed the gap to two. Aird called his last timeout of the set with the Boilermakers up 23-21. Epenesa's kill got Purdue to set point and Twilley's attack error gave the Boilermakers the third set. The final score of the third set was the same as the two that preceded it, 25-22.
Purdue held a slight 6-5 lead over Maryland but Abby Bentz's ace tied it up. Maryland's next two got absolutely stonewalled by Purdue's physical front line. Cuttino was in the middle of the action both times for the Boilermakers. Azariah Stahl put a nasty block on Hailey Murray and, after an attack error by Elliott, Purdue was up 12-7. Aird called timeout to try and refocus his squad.
Cuttino paired with Stahl and then with Epenesa to block another two Terrapin attacks. She was a thorn in Maryland's side all game long. An attack error on Gaskin made it 17-11 in favor of the visitors. The Boilermakers were up and running as they made it 20-13. Aird called his final timeout of the set.
The Boilermakers were a runaway train, and Cuttino teamed with Drews to block Ashlyn MacGregor and win the fourth set, 25-15. Purdue took the match in four sets (25-22, 22-25, 25-22, 25-15).
Purdue (19-7, 10-5) is a very good team. They were physical and after three close sets, they dominated the fourth and final set. Aird said that the match came down to execution.
"I thought Game 3 was good. I thought we competed, we just didn't execute. In Game 4, I think we got young. Angel made a lot of errors. Liz made a lot of errors. I didn't think we passed the ball great and I didn't think Whitney was very good. That combination of when you have three or four kids that aren't playing great at the same time, we just can't afford that because we don't have someone that can really hit us out of trouble."
Maryland (13-16, 3-12) played hard for most of the night but their youth showed during the fourth set. "I thought the compete level was a 'B' tonight."
Aird said that the reality was that it wasn't that bad a night. "On one side of it, I'm upset that we lost...On the other side of it, it's a Wednesday night at six. We're playing in front of 1,200 people and you took the No. 17 team in the country to four games. Look at how far we've come."
Adreene` Elliott continues her rise up the Maryland career kills list. After tonight's game, where she had 16 kills, she supplanted former teammates Mary Cushman and Ashleigh Crutcher and took sole possession of fourth place on the all-time list. She won't catch Carey Brennan but she only needs 33 more kills to take over second place on the all-time list.
Maryland didn't play their best game tonight. In fact, they didn't come close to it. Maryland's best players needed to play their best for the Terps to have a shot. They didn't.
Purdue's best player did. "Annie Drews is as good as it gets in the country, said Aird at the beginning of his post-game remarks. "We had a hard time slowing her down."
Aird doesn't like to lose at all but during the last two seasons, he has often talked about the importance of "the process". "We've got to find a way to keep working to get these young kids better where they can perform and execute late in games."
It is really amazing how far this team has come considering they are starting four freshmen and lost two seniors for the year with injuries. They took two-time defending national champion Penn State to four sets. They swept the No. 12 team in the country. Aird has this team believing that they can compete with the best in the country. One key phrase has been central to Maryland's turnaround this season.
Trust the process.
Aird said that this team is not up to par in the Big Ten yet. "We're not a top-10 team. We're not a top-15 team. We're a team that's learning how to play in this conference." Regardless of how the team does the rest of the season, this team will be better next year. When I talked to the players, they are confident that this team will be able to win these kind of games next season and when I asked why, they each came back to the same thing.