Maryland volleyball head coach Steve Aird has used the phrase "break the rock" many times this season. After a lot of cracking, the rock finally broke tonight as his team defeated the No. 12 Ohio State Buckeyes in straight sets, 25-23, 28-26 and 27-25. "A great win for our program tonight," Aird said. "We talk all the time about pounding the rock and at one point it's going to split."
Senior outside hitter Adreene' Elliott rode a stationary bike on the sidelines when the match began. She found herself back in the mix very quickly, coming off the bench to provide back-to-back kills that brought Maryland within a point of the lead. After a pair of Buckeye errors, the Terrapins had their first lead of the night at 10-9.
Elliott's presence sparked a rally. The Maryland lead grew to 12-9, which forced Ohio State to use a timeout. Elliott wasn't done. Just as the Buckeyes started to climb back into the set, she served two straight aces and gave her team an 18-13 lead. Ohio State used their final timeout of the set.
Freshman libero Kelsey Wicinski was effusive in her praise of Elliott. "She works her butt off," she explained. "It's awesome."
The visitors stormed back, evening the score at 21. Aird used his final timeout. Maryland bent but did not break. The Terps outscored the Buckeyes coming out of the timeout and took the first set, 25-23.
Despite coming into the second set with momentum, Maryland quickly fell behind. Ashlyn MacGregor and Elliott led the way for the Terps as they came back to take the lead. A powerful kill from MacGregor along with Elliott's third ace of the night gave Maryland a 13-10 advantage.
Ohio State kept the Terrapins in their sights and came back to tie the score at 17. The Buckeyes would tie the score again at 18 and 20 before taking the lead, 21-20. The Buckeyes took a 22-20 lead, but the Terps fought back and tied the score. Maryland used a timeout.
Play bounced back and forth for the remainder of the set, but it was the Terrapins who emerged victorious as they won the second set, 28-26. The rock was breaking. The Xfinity Center Pavilion was shaking. The Terrapins could taste the upset.
Maryland went into the locker room with a 2-0 lead, but Aird told his team that their work wasn't done yet. "He was pretty calm," Gaskin said about her coach. "He told us we still have another game left and to not let anything else get in our minds. He said two sets doesn't win a match."
Early in the third set, Hailey Murray tied the score at four with a big kill that brought the entire Maryland coaching staff to their feet. That moment seemed to capture the amount of energy and excitement that was spread throughout the team and the building tonight.
Ohio State did not make things easy for Maryland. The Buckeyes took a 13-9 lead, but back-to-back kills from Liz Twilley brought the Terrapins within two. MacGregor tied the score at 15 with her eighth kill of the night. Frustrated by a questionable call, Ohio State used a timeout.
After battling back and forth, the Buckeyes broke through to take a 19-17 advantage. Aird used his final timeout of the set as he tried to keep the score within reach. In the blink of an eye, Elliott slammed home a kill and served an ace, tying the score at 19.
The two teams were tied at 21 before the Scarlet and Grey took a 24-22 lead. An Elliott kill at first set point brought Maryland within one and forced the Buckeyes to use their final timeout. With Wicinski serving, Maryland tied the score at 24 before Ohio State regained the lead. Elliott slammed home her 18th kill of the night to tie it up at 25 apiece.
Wicinski reflected on her serve after the game, saying, "I was just kind of standing there and I looked at coach [Aird] and he said, 'You're good!'" That seemed to be all she needed. A Gaskin kill gave the Terps the lead and, all of the sudden, Whitney Craigo was serving for the match.
Gaskin, who had five kills on the night, explained that she was feeling "pretty good". "I'm pretty confident," she said. "Just being challenged mentally allowed us to reach a different level tonight."
Gaskin and MacGregor teamed up for a block and the upset was complete. Maryland had beaten its first ranked opponent since October 17th, 2010 in a victory over No. 22 Florida State.
While it only counts as one win, a victory like the one Maryland achieved tonight could be the turning point for a program that looks to be headed in the right direction.
"We're going up," Wicinski stated. "We're working hard, we're getting people in the gym, and we're making changes."
Tonight's upset win over Ohio State in straight sets will be a match to remember for these players and this program. There were 30 ties and 11 lead changes in the three sets tonight. This team competed. They fought hard for every point in every set. They played clean and they played an exciting brand of volleyball in front of a raucous crowd. For a coach who has preached about process and patience, this win is a validation of everything that Aird has worked to build at Maryland.
"I think we have really good players coming in, and I hope we can have wins like this in the future where it's not one or two a season, but something we get used to," Aird explained.
Steve Aird is stoic, honest and humble. Any attempt to get him to pat himself on the back after a potential program-changing win like tonight's is futile. In fact, you'd probably have more luck pounding a rock.