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Maryland volleyball narrowly edged by No. 24 Illinois in five sets

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The Terps were oh-so-close to their first Big Ten victory of the season.

Maryland Volleyball vs. Penn State

Maryland volleyball gave No. 24 Illinois all it had Sunday, but ultimately fell 3-2 to the Illini, with set scores of 18-25, 25-22, 28-30, 25-23, and 13-15.

Despite the loss, the Terps’ play showed significant improvement as Maryland won its first two sets of the Big Ten season against a top-25 ranked opponent. It is an encouraging sign compared to the Terps’ three straight-set losses to open Big Ten play. It is only the second of Illinois’ last eight wins to not be in straight sets, either.

In each set, Maryland came out strong against the Illini. In the first set, the Terps’ 8-4 lead was not maintained following an Illinois timeout. The initial lead was aided by zero errors from the Terps. Following Illinois’ timeout, the tables turned to a 15-14 Illini lead with five errors from Maryland. The Terps would go on to drop that first set 25-18.

Maryland would again start the second set hot, yet this time the Terps would hold onto that lead. Back-to-back blocks in the set recaptured the lead from Illinois, and three serving aces from Kelsey Wicinski helped Maryland grab a 13-9 lead before the Illini called a timeout. A 25-22 win brought Maryland’s first Big Ten set win of the season, and it was well-deserved after only four errors.

After the second-set break, Illinois came out with a renewed vigor, but it was not the same Terps team which folded 25-16 to Iowa in the third set. Maryland would remain neck-and-neck with Illinois and earned several set point chances before losing 30-28. The Terps’ effort was not aided by their seven service errors, including one on a set point attempt to gift Illinois a point.

There was no drag after the heartbreaking loss of the third set. The Terps battled to win the set 25-23. Despite nine errors, the largest total in any set from Maryland, Coach Steve Aird’s team persevered to tie the match at 2-2.

The fifth set, which goes to 15, ended with Illinois ending the upset bid with a 15-13 victory.

Sophomore Liz Twilley started ahead of junior Samantha Higgenbothem, and Taylor Smith returned to the starting lineup after Whitney Craigo got the nod against Iowa. While Higgenbothem had plenty of floor time, Twilley’s addition to the lineup was key. The outside hitter had 15 kills against Illinois, including five in the third set.

Ashlyn MacGregor led the young Terps team with an all-around performance with 13 kills and 4 blocks.

Three things to know

1. Serving has improved, but errors are still a problem. Three aces from Wicinski in the third set and five total from MacGregor are highlights, but 13 service errors are still too many, especially at inopportune times like in the third set. Maryland was making up ground yet its seven third set service errors stopped momentum.

2. Maryland’s freshman stepped up at home. Gia Milana and Smith stood out for the Terps. Smith had nine assists in the first set, and finished with ­47. Milana had ­16 kills, including six in the second set victory. There were encouraging signs for Maryland’s No. 62 ranked freshman Katie Myers, as she participated in warm ups with a knee brace. Myers missed the first nine matches of the season recovering from a torn ACL, and has missed the last six after reinjuring her knee on September 15 against Washington.

3. Finishing off a set point is hard work for the Terps. Maryland had six chances in the third set before falling to the Illini 30-28, and had three shots at it before winning the fourth set 25-23.

Up next

The Terps’ run in the Big Ten will not get any easier, with its next two matches away from home at No. 22 Michigan and No. 18 Michigan State on Friday and Saturday. But after a strong match, the ranked opponents should not faze the Terps at all.

Following Michigan’s straight-set loss to No. 1 Nebraska to open its Big Ten season, the Wolverines (13-3, 2-2) defeated Iowa and Rutgers before being swept by No. 16 Penn State Saturday night.