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Maryland volleyball sweeps Northwestern to end regular season

The Terps help their NCAA Tournament case in the season finale.

maryland volleyball Gabe Fernandez/Testudo Times

Maryland volleyball finished its regular season with a straight-set home win over Northwestern on Friday. Now the Terps have to sit and wait to find out if they’ll play again this fall.

The victory brought Maryland to 18-14 for the season, with a 7-13 mark in the treacherous Big Ten. This program hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2005, but that can change when the bracket is unveiled Sunday. Maryland entered the week 47th in RPI, so it’s right on the bubble.

Friday’s win certainly helped the cause. The Terps needed five sets, including a 36-34 opener and a 17-15 fifth frame, to beat the Wildcats in Evanston last month. This one, though, turned into a rout in the end after two close sets.

Erika Pritchard capped off her freshman regular season with a team-high 15 kills and posted a stellar .500 hitting percentage. Sophomore Gia Milana chipped in 11 kills and 10 digs. The Terps hit .432 as a team, including a stellar .609 clip in the third and final frame.

Maryland was the first team to gain some separation in the first set, as four straight points gave the Terps a 9-6 lead. They’d remain ahead, stretching the advantage to six points at 22-16. Northwestern promptly scored five straight points to slash the margin to one, forcing an Aird timeout. On the other side, two kills from Milana preceded Pritchard’s set-winning spike, clinching a 25-23 win.

In the second set, the Terps started slow, as Northwestern jumped out to an 11-5 lead and maintained the six-point spread all the way to 17-11. Then the Terps made their charge, scoring seven of the next eight points to even the score at 18. The teams would go back and forth until three straight Maryland points made it 24-21, and the Terps would hold on for a 25-22 victory and enter the locker room up two sets to none.

Maryland turned on the jets in the third set, quickly turning a 3-1 deficit into a 6-3 lead it wouldn’t relinquish. The Terps added another five-point run later in the set, giving them a 15-7 advantage. Northwestern wouldn’t get closer than six points, and after it did, Maryland reeled off eight of the next 10 points to win 25-13 and steal the match in straight sets.

Three things to know

1. Maryland came through with a clutch win. After defeating Iowa, who sits right next to the Terps in RPI, Maryland lost back-to-back home matches against Nebraska and Ohio State. Dropping three straight at home, with the last two coming to unranked opponents, wouldn’t have helped, but the Terps are in better position now.

2. The youth was on display again. Maryland’s freshmen and sophomores comprise two-thirds of the roster and recorded 37 of the team’s 45 kills on Friday. Pritchard’s 15 led the way, with Milana and rookies Samantha Drechsel and Jada Gardner not far behind.

3. The waiting game begins. Making the dance would be a tangible sign of the progress this team has made under Aird. It’s been a journey to here, and there’s still a ways to go. But ending this 12-year drought is definitely part of the process. The NCAA Tournament selection show starts Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPNU.