Maryland came into Day Two of the Maryland Invitational after having dispatched both Morgan State and Duquesne 3-0. They took on Hofstra, who was also 2-0 after 3-1 wins over Duquesne and Kent State.
Maryland got started quickly. After a quick point, Emily Fraik had a nice block and Adreene` Elliott finished off the rally with a kill as Maryland went up 2-0. After getting out to a 3-0 lead, Hofstra worked their way back to tie it up at three apiece. Hailey Murray got a kill to put the Terps back on top.
Head Coach Steve Aird made a change at setter with Maryland leading 7-6, putting in Carlotta Oggioni. It didn't work out as Hofstra scored the next two points to take their first lead of the match. Hofstra hit double digits first and went up 13-9, giving Maryland their most serious challenge yet in this young season.
Aird took a time-out to help his team regain their focus. They looked out of sorts on the court. They weren't communicating and they weren't setting the ball the way they are capable of doing.
Abby Bentz came on to serve and then stayed on to set. Maryland got the score to within one and Hofstra took a time-out at 17-16. Ashlyn MacGregor got a kill and sparked the Terps, who re-took the lead at 19-18. She played the ensuing serve into the net and the first set was tied up 19-19.
The Terps hit the 20 point mark on an overpowering shot from Angel Gaskin. Murray and Elliott teamed up for a block on the right side for a point and Fraik followed it up with a block of her own. Maryland was up 22-19 and took a time-out at set point, leading 24-22. The Terps came out of the time-out and closed out the first set, 25-22.
Murray and Liz Twilley led the Terps with four kills each while Fraik and Gaskin had three apiece. Neither team hit the ball well in the first set, with Hofstra connecting at a .125 clip and Maryland at .196.
Bentz came back in to serve and set after Maryland had staked themselves to a 5-2 lead. Gaskin and MacGregor blocked a shot to make it 6-2 and Hofstra called a time-out. MacGregor was not having a good match offensively. She only converted one of her five chances and had two errors but she was a force defensively early on in this match.
Bentz looked a little more polished in the second set than the first and she helped the Terps execute more consistently on offense. Hofstra took their second time-out after Maryland went up 10-4 and was threatening to try and break it open.
Maryland continued to stay out in front by a comfortable margin. Bentz's ace made it 18-10 and Sophia Black's service error gave Maryland the ball back. Fraik got a kill to get the Terps to 20 and Maryland continued to cruise. Hailey Murray got a block to make it 22-12 and pumped her fist after the point. Hofstra continued to hurt themselves with another service error and Fraik's kill made it 24-13. An attacking error on Hofstra allowed Maryland to take set number two in relatively easy fashion, 25-13.
Maryland only had 11 kills in the second set. That stat would be troubling were it not for the fact that the Pride had nine attacking errors and two service errors. That amounted to gifting the Terps 11 points and Maryland's three aces allowed them to take the second set with ease.
Fraik and Elliott set the pace early on in the third set with two kills each as the Terrapins jumped out to a 9-3 lead after Bentz's ace. Hofstra used the second of their two time-outs but it didn't help as Bentz came out and put up another ace.
Maryland led 14-6 in what looked to be more of the same from the previous set. Aird called a time-out when Hofstra made it 15-9. The Terps had gotten a little sloppy and he wisely called time to give them a breather and to correct simple mistakes.
Hofstra closed within four but Elliott got a kill to make it 19-14. The Terps were up 20-16 and Gaskin put them up five. The Pride trimmed the deficit to two and Aird called time once again with Maryland up 21-19.
Hofstra only had two attacking errors in the third set and Maryland had to work for their points. The Pride were aggressive and the Terps simply weren't making the plays they needed to make in order to score.
Fraik got a kill coming out of the time-out but Hofstra tied it up at 22 apiece thanks to the pin-point precision of Veronika Kostova and then took the lead. Maryland trailed 24-23 but Elliott tied it up at 24-all. Murray and Elliott combined for a block to set up match-point but Murray mishandled a ball to make it 25-25.
Hofstra's service error on the ensuing possession gave Maryland their second attempt to win the match. Twilley and MacGregor blocked Kostova and the Terps took the third set, 27-25, to sweep Hofstra.
Maryland did not play consistent volleyball this afternoon but it was good enough to beat Hofstra, a good young team that aided Maryland's cause by committing seven attacking errors in the first set and nine errors in the second. Hofstra pushed Maryland hard in the third and final set because the Terps made 10 attacking errors while the Pride only had four. Hofstra shot at a .289 clip in the third set, the highest percentage for either team in any of the sets.
Maryland trailed for much of the first set before finally retaking the lead at 19-18 and going on to win. That first set was a huge boost to the Terrapins and Hofstra did not respond well in the second set. Their 11 errors (two service, nine attacking) essentially gave Maryland the second set. The third set proved that this young Hofstra team is much better than what they showed in the second set. Maryland was up 19-14 but the Pride went on a 10-3 run and almost took the set.
Ashlyn MacGregor wasn't targeted much and had three attacking errors but her team-leading seven blocks were a game-changer in the match. Adreene` Elliott had seven kills and five blocks and Aird has to be happy to have her healthy in a year where the Terps are thin up front.
The Terps continue to feast on their early non-conference schedule and they won 3-0 for the third straight match. They close out the Maryland Invitational tonight against Kent State before heading to the D.C. Classic next weekend.
"Young kids look at you and they nod but they don't hear you," Aird said in his post-game remarks when asked about one of the time-outs he took in the first set.
The freshmen looked like freshmen today. Liz Twilley looked tentative at times and while she had seven kills, tied for second-most on the team, she also had a team-high six attacking errors. That doesn't mean the seniors are off the hook though. When asked how he thought the seniors performed, Aird responded, "C, C-plus. I need more from my seniors...They deserve to have a good year but they have to perform. If not, I'll have a pretty quick trigger."
"We've got two seniors at either pin that have to be able to hit us out of trouble and do what seniors do at this level. Getting them the ball and them taking real brave swings is going to be an important part of our progression."
The setter position still isn't set. All three need to improve. "We've got help on the way next year but we need one or two of the three to get to the point where they can do what I'm asking them to do."
Aird talked about trying to play clean and the Terps struggled at times with that this afternoon. They shot .189 as a team and had 21 attacking errors alone. Maryland had seven in the first set and 10 in the third set. Those were the sets that they struggled in and the errors are a reflection of that.
Maryland has a better team on the floor than they did last season. That much is obvious from watching them play. Hailey Murray can jump out of the gym. Ashlyn MacGregor is solid in the middle. Angel Gaskin and Adreene` Elliott can both crush the ball. Emily Fraik is a very good two-way player and brings hustle and energy that the team feeds off of.
"We're playing better volleyball. I think the team is improved. I think the skill is better. The mentality is better. The work-rate is better. The confidence is better."
The Terps started 6-0 last season but went 1-5 before hitting their Big Ten conference schedule, where they won only three matches. This season, they have a chance to hit their 10 win mark from last season before they hit the Oklahoma Invitational where we will get a chance to see how this team stacks up against nationally ranked teams.
Consistency. Killer instinct. Those are qualities that every great team has. In two or three years, with the addition of nationally-ranked, program-changing recruits that will be coming to Maryland, the Terps will be a great volleyball team. Right now, this is still a team that is finding their identity. Once they find consistency and acquire an indomitable mindset, this program will take off and soar.
Until that happens however, this team doesn't look ready to roll with the middle of the Big Ten, much less the class of the conference. They will feast on the matches where they overwhelm teams like Morgan State and Duquesne. They are expected to win these matches and they are doing just that.
Once September 17th rolls around, the opponents get tougher and it doesn't let up. The Terps won't get away with playing average or sub-par volleyball on offense and defense and expect to win against good teams. That is the bottom line.