Despite not having star libero Justine Wong-Orantes, the Nebraska Cornhuskers were just fine.
Facing their fifth straight ranked opponent, Maryland was unable to come out victorious against a much bigger and stronger Nebraska team. Although they didn't come out on top, the Terps played a much stronger match than they did against the Cornhuskers just two weeks ago.
A strong dig and service ace from freshman Kelsey Wicinski paced the Terps early in the first set. They led 6-3 before Nebraska scored three consecutive points to tie the score.
Liz Twilley kept the home team in it with four kills within the first 14 points.
The score was tied at 18 until Nebraska quickly went on a 7-3 run to take the set. The set featured 13 ties, and Twilley led the way for the Terps with five kills and no errors.
Adreene' Elliott helped the Maryland cause in the beginning stage of the second set as her service ace gave the team a 3-0 lead. She finished an extremely long rally with a kill shortly after, and the Terps had an 8-6 advantage. The Maryland lead built to 15-11, and Nebraska called for a timeout.
Slowly but surely Nebraska was able to climb back into the set. They pulled within one point, but Maryland responded to take a 22-19 lead on a crucial solo block from Twilley. Xfinity Pavilion was rocking, and the visitors called their second timeout of the set.
"It's an aspect that I really need to work on and something I'm trying to improve," Twilley noted about her rare block.
A Cornhusker service error put the Terps at set point, but the set continued after a kill by the visitors.
At second set point, a controversial call cut the Maryland lead to one. It was Twilley with the answer again, and her kill tied the teams at one set a piece headed into the third set.
"Coach told us to keep the energy and keep playing our game," Twilley said about the message the team was given at intermission. "He said to keep up the confidence and stay aggressive."
Despite Nebraska leading early in the third set, Maryland was able to come back and tie the score at nine on a Husker error. The teams would meet again at 13 as an Angel Gaskin kill energized the entire Maryland bench.
After two strong digs, the visitors took a 19-16 lead and forced coach Aird to use a timeout. Maryland came out strong out of the break and cut the deficit to one before Nebraska called a timeout.
Maryland kept pounding the rock, but were never able to break it as they dropped the third set 25-21. They pulled within a point of the lead on multiple occasions, but could never make a final push.
Nebraska was able to take an early lead again in the fourth set, but Maryland was able to show its ability to fight back. The Cornhuskers led 11-5 before Maryland stormed back on a 6-1 run to cut the deficit to one.
The visitors showed their dominance from that point on, and cruised to a 25-18 victory.
"Beating a good team is hard, especially when there are errors," Aird noted. "I think we made some errors in the fourth set. Sometimes we have issues with young people trying to do too much."
After arguably their worst performance of the season a few weeks ago in Nebraska, the Terps showed how they have improved in a short period of time.
"We gave them a match," senior captain Amy Dion said. "We did what coach asked us to do in our game plan and we competed. We're proud of that."
Once again, it was another packed house in Xfinity Pavilion. It is not lost upon the players and coaches about how the environment has changed over the years.
"If you came to me during my freshman year and told me we'd have sellout crowds in here, I wouldn't believe you," explained Dion, who only has one more home match remaining in her career. "Everyone is on our side and they support us. It's amazing, and I couldn't ask for a better community."
"I thought the atmosphere was awesome," Aird said. "We're competing against top teams with 1,600 people in our building on a Saturday night. The culture of this program is changing."
That it is. The Terps ability to bounce back against a team after a poor performance last time they met shows the growth of such a young team.
"When you play in Nebraska, between the crowd and the environment, you have to be able to handle the event," Aird explained. "What I'm trying to build in Maryland is our own unique event. I want it to be different, I want to have our own thing."
As the end of the season draws closer, it is evident that this team has made strides throughout the season. There was a steep learning curve when they entered the Big Ten last season, and they seem to be beginning to really figure it out. If they can combine the hustle, toughness and passion they have shown this season with the skill of those returning and those who will beginning their careers next season, matches like tonight could have a different outcome.
Saturday night was their fifth consecutive match against a ranked opponent, with two more in the upcoming week. A schedule that tough can break a team over time. The Terps have shown that they're going to keep on fighting and not give in (shoutout to the Maryland fight song) no matter who they see on the other side of the net.