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Maryland volleyball overcame 5th-set struggles and Gia Milana’s off night to upset Ohio State

The Terps spread out the attack, with five players hitting nine or more kills.

Volleyball Sammi Silber / Testudo Times

Coach Steve Aird thoroughly deserved the beer he promised to drink after his post-match press conference. For the second straight year, he led Maryland volleyball to an upset win over a top-20 Ohio State team.

On Wednesday night, the Terps topped the Buckeyes in five sets. They travel to Columbus for an immediate rematch with Ohio State on Friday.

Maryland has been in tight five-set situations before. Previously, losses against then-No. 24 Illinois and then-No. 16 Michigan came down to similar swing-to-win situations. But the Terps ended on the losing side of both.

Finally, they won one.

“I think we had to go through some disappointing times, get into training, and have some real conversations,” Aird said. “We’re a couple of swings away from being 13-7 and probably being in the tournament.”

Instead, Maryland’s second-straight Big Ten win makes the Terps 10-13.

Most impressive perhaps is that Maryland did it without a big night from freshman Gia Milana. The outside hitter has carried the Terps' attack for much of the season, but without practicing in two weeks as she deals with two injuries, Maryland made due. Still, she was set 57 times on Wednesday and managed nine kills, but also had a season-high 14 errors and a -.088 hitting percentage.

That's where the rest of the Terps' attacking option came in, filling in on Milana off night to earn the team’s second Big Ten win of the season.

“[Milana] has carried us the whole season,” outside hitter Liz Twilley said. “It’s part of being a team, if one player is not feeling their best, or playing their best, that everyone else steps up. So, it’s only fair that we did it for her because she’s been so great all season, and she’s so supportive and happy for everyone else.”

Twilley led the Terps with 13 kills, while posting a .290 hitting percentage and six blocks. Hailey Murray, Angel Gaskin and Ashlyn MacGregor were not far behind in kills. Murray’s team-high eight blocks added to nine kills, Gaskin posted 10 kills and MacGregor had nine kills and a team-high .471 hitting percentage.

Twilley has struggled the past five matches with errors and injuries. She missed the October 16 Michigan match due to injury, and hit negatively in three of the past five matches.

“I wasn’t happy with the way I was playing the past couple of weeks, but I knew I just needed to stick with it and not lose confidence,” Twilley said. “It was definitely a great feeling to come back and have a match, so I know I can play.”

For setter Taylor Smith, distribution to all the attacking options was only one facet of her night. The freshman had 48 assists, while adding seven kills, three aces and nine digs to her error-free night.

Against Michigan, Smith’s error gave the Wolverines their winning point in the fifth set, narrowly escaping an upset in College Park a week ago. On Wednesday, Smith made up for it with a match-winning block, one of her four total.

“It was a cool feeling, especially since blocking is something I’ve been working on. It’s nice to know it’s paying off,” Smith said.

Ohio State will have an immediate chance at redemption against Maryland on Friday. After a straight-sets loss to the Terps the year before, and now Wednesday’s five-set loss, it will be an interesting matchup for the Buckeyes as they return home.

“We knew that after beating them 3-0 last year they were going to come with a fire and really want to fight hard, and they did,” Twilley said. “But it was great, and it’s a fun rivalry, so we’ll see on Friday.”