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Maryland volleyball impresses with 1-1 Big Ten road weekend

The Terps took No. 8 Penn State to five sets in Happy Valley and handily took care of Rutgers in Piscataway.

Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

It’s been a tough Big Ten schedule so far for Maryland volleyball, and it didn’t get any easier this weekend as the team traveled to face No. 8 Penn State on Friday and Rutgers on Saturday.

The Terps have previous success against the Scarlet Knights since joining the conference, but they haven’t been as fortunate against the Nittany Lions, especially in State College. However, the tides turned as Maryland (10-8, 2-5 Big Ten) took Penn State (11-3, 4-1 Big Ten) to five sets on the road and defeated Rutgers (6-11, 0-6 Big Ten), taking a 1-1 weekend back to College Park.

Despite Maryland’s 1-1 record, the weekend went much better than expected, beginning with the battle in State College.

While Rutgers gave Maryland a fight early on, it was able to separate itself from the Scarlet Knights. The Terps wiped the bad state of the end of the Penn State match to end the weekend on a good note.

No. 8 Penn State - (25-18, 20-25, 19-25, 25-14, 6-15)

Maryland caught Penn State off-guard in State College, recording road set wins for the first time in nearly 40 years, though coming up short in the end.

In set one, Maryland kept it close until Penn State tied the set at 13-13. Then, Maryland took over, going on a 9-2 run that started with a Rebekah Rath kill, one of her 14 in the match.

Rath, Erika Pritchard and Katie Myers all had two kills in this run that would put the Terps up 21-15 in the set, along with two straight blocks from middle blockers Rainelle Jones and Jada Gardner. Pritchard had seven kills in the set, on her way to a team-leading 19 kills in the match.

Maryland hit .500 in the set with 19 kills and one attack error. The Terps’ offense, which averages a .238 hitting percentage, came as a bit of a surprise as they out-hit Penn State .273 to .237 in the loss.

Penn State answered back in set two going on a 12-3 run to go ahead 18-11 after being down 8-6 and set three was similar, Penn State holding a 17-16 lead late. However, Maryland let up another big run, a 7-1 run to go up 24-17 in the set, taking a 2-1 lead in the match

Maryland responded in a big way in set four, going on a 5-0 run early to take a 7-2 lead. Penn State would tie the set at 8-8 with a 4-0 run, but the Terps took over, going on a 9-0 run taking a 17-8 lead to run away with the set and tie the match at 2-2.

However, Maryland was out of runs in the fifth and couldn’t stop a 10-2 Penn State run. The Nittany Lions continued their momentum in the final set, taking a 12-4 lead that was too big for the Terps to overcome.

Maryland held Penn State’s three best attackers on the night, including right side hitter/ setter Jonni Parker, middle blocker Serena Gray and outside hitter Allyson Cathey, to hitting percentages of .222 or lower. The trio finished with 37 total kills and 17 attack errors.

Rutgers - (23-25, 25-23, 25-19, 25-11)

Maryland came out of the gates slow against a Rutgers team that was previously 0-5 in conference play, but rebounded after dropping the first set.

The Terps had won the last 18 straight sets against the Scarlet Knights, a streak dating back to 2015. However, in set one, Rutgers broke the streak despite hitting .195 in the set. Maryland hit .156 with six attack errors.

In the first set, Maryland took a 9-6 lead after a big 7-1 run, extending it to 12-8 before Rutgers tied the set at 15 apiece with a 7-3 run. Rutgers went on two 3-0 runs late, including after being tied 22-22 to take the set and a 1-0 match lead.

The first two sets were very close, but there was no team that went on a giant run. Rutgers took a 12-9 lead after a 7-2 run, equaled out by Maryland’s 4-0 run as the Terps went up 13-12. Maryland began to distance itself after being down 15-13, ending the set on a 10-6 run with big contributions from Myers’ four kills in the set and Pritchard’s three kills.

Momentum continued in the third set as Maryland got out to a 10-3 lead, a deficit too big for Rutgers, despite closing the gap to 23-19 after a 5-1 run. However, the Terps attack shined, hitting .370 with 15 kills.

The Terps shut the door in the fourth set, using an 12-4 run to go up 19-8. The lead would hover around a 10-point gap, as Maryland capitalized on Rutgers hitting -.097 in the set with 10 attack errors. Maryland hit .333 in the set and despite 18 attack errors, hit .268 in the match.

Pritchard led the Terps with 14 kills, Rath had 10 and Jones hit .800 with eight kills in the match. While Rutgers had eight service aces in the match and capitalized on Maryland’s 10 service errors, the Terps were the better team on Saturday.

Three things to know

1. Erika Pritchard was back to her old self. Pritchard put in two solid performances against Michigan and Michigan State last weekend. But on Friday, she was unleashed, leading all attackers with 19 kills. She also was tied for first with 16 digs in the loss.

2. Maryland took a big step forward against Penn State. It came out of nowhere, but the Terps were able to finally be competitive against the Nittany Lions, taking two sets. Despite being blown out in the fifth set tiebreaker, Maryland made a statement in Happy Valley.

3. Maryland’s domination against Rutgers continues. Although they dropped the first set, the Terps won their seventh straight match against the Scarlet Knights, improving to 9-1 against Rutgers since the two schools joined the Big Ten in 2014.