Down by two sets, Maryland volleyball was looking for a spark to stay in it in the third set. The Terps found that spark with a great offensive start, running to an early set lead against No. 3 Nebraska and managing to keep it throughout.
After a ball-handling error from Nebraska sophomore setter Kennedi Orr, the Terps nabbed a set victory from the clutches of defeat while screams bouncing off each brick in the XFINITY Center Pavilion had the sold-out crowd at a fever pitch.
While the performance in the third set looked like it would spark something for Maryland, a less impressive fourth set saw Maryland lose, 3-1, to Nebraska. The Terps were held to a .072 hitting percentage as they lost their fourth straight match to start the conference schedule.
The pavilion was full of energy on Sunday afternoon. With Terrapin fans on one side and large clusters of Cornhusker supporters spaced out around the bleachers, the energy in the room was high. The gym was packed enough that some fans were forced to sit on the bleacher steps at times.
The first set started looking promising for Maryland, which went out to a 7-2 lead, and junior right side Laila Ricks had two kills and a service ace. But the Cornhuskers stormed back quickly on a 12-1 run to take a 14-8 lead midway through the set.
The rest of the way, Nebraska managed to control the flow of the match and got out to a nine-point lead. While the Terps tried fighting back, closing the gap down to five at one point, Nebraska won the first set, 25-18, behind senior middle blocker Madi Kubik’s three kills and three digs.
Sunday’s match was the fourth in a row in which Maryland lost the first set — it has happened in every conference game so far this season.
The second set started off as more of a back-and-forth affair, with both teams tied at 11 to start off the set. Freshman outside hitter Laila Ivey provided two kills early in the set to help keep things close. But as the set continued, the Terps started to become victim to the offensive weapons up front for Nebraska, giving up a 10-5 run. The Cornhuskers scored half of their points off kills.
Sophomore defensive specialist Milan Gomillion talked about the team’s morale after Nebraska would go on long runs, and how the team stayed focused.
“We brought it in tight, we said ‘Hey guys, like we just need one ball. Someone take charge, put it away, and feed off each other’s energy to... build each other up, and support each other, no matter what,’” she said.
Despite going down 24-19 and facing set point, the Terps refused to give up and battled back all the way to within one point at 24-23, due to four straight block assists. But the comeback wasn’t enough, as an attack error from junior outside hitter Sam Csire gave Nebraska the 25-23 set win.
Maryland head coach Adam Hughes mentioned that an issue with one of the rotations was a reason the team wasn’t able to capitalize on early-set leads. “We did have some problems in one rotation, and that was one key that we couldn’t find an answer and couldn’t get out of... that’s something we gotta find a way [to fix], where maybe it’s a different look, somehow, we gotta try something different in practice. But one of our rotations was pretty problematic,” he said.
The Terps had a staggering 21 block assists in the second set, but it didn’t make a difference. Maryland was limited to a hitting percentage of .029, something Nebraska is known for; the Huskers have limited opponents to a Big Ten-leading .125 hitting percentage this season.
At the start of third set, Maryland’s offense responded quickly, and Ivey was at the helm yet again with four early kills as the Terps took a 10-7 lead. The kills kept coming, and with both sides battling, Csire added three straight kills to her tally to keep Maryland up, 14-11.
Later in the set, a long rally that ended with a tap-over kill to the right side sent the fans into pandemonium as Maryland took a 17-13 lead. As Maryland began to get more into rhythm, The Cornhuskers began to lose focus, and eventually the home team found itself up 21-16 in the third set still battling.
Even though the visitors managed to bring it back to a one-point set, Maryland finished the job behind a six-kill set from Ivey, taking the set, 25-21, and staying alive.
Nebraska responded with a vengeance in the fourth set, coming up with 10 block assists in the first 15 points as the defensive height managed to put Maryland down 15-10 midway through the set.
Looking more like the first two sets, Maryland couldn’t get anything going on offense in the fourth. The Cornhuskers had a nice advantage for the majority of the set until a short 3-1 run by Maryland, capped by a block assist from Ivey and redshirt junior middle blocker Anastasia Russ, brought it within four. This forced Nebraska head coach John Cook to call a timeout, hoping to stop a momentum shift.
Maryland was not deterred, tying up the set at 22 behind a Russ block assist. But, Nebraska responded with a 3-0 run to close the set out, 25-22, and the match, 3-1.
Despite the loss, Csire had a monster performance with 14 kills, 12 digs, seven blocks and two service aces. Ivey also put up 12 kills, while Russ had a team-leading 11 blocks to go along with two kills. Sophomore outside hitter Whitney Lauenstein led the offense for Nebraska with a team-high 11 kills.
“One of the things we’re trying to embrace more of, is that it’s okay to be uncomfortable. And that’s why you guys [the team] support each other,” Hughes said.
The Terps will be back in action next weekend, as they host Illinois at 7 p.m. on Friday and travel to take on Rutgers at 1 p.m. on Sunday.