Maryland volleyball started its 2017 season by winning all three of its matches at the Maryland invite. The Terps beat UMBC by four sets in front of a raucous College Park crowd Friday night, then captured Saturday matches against Northeastern and Temple.
Maryland entered the round-robin tournament as somewhat of an underdog in the latter two matches, as both teams finished with top-100 RPIs a season ago and the Terps placed 141st. But Maryland took charge of the weekend and came out undefeated. The other three teams split contests with each other to finish 1-2 for the Invite.
Here’s a rundown of Maryland’s weekend:
Friday evening: Maryland 3, UMBC 1
Maryland dropped a roller coaster first set of the season. After the Terps opened up an 8-2 lead, UMBC stormed back to take its first lead at 16-15. The teams went back-and-forth before the Retrievers ultimately took the set 28-26. Maryland responded by cruising in the second set, evening the match with a 25-17 win.
The Terps fell down 16-10 in third, but then flipped a switch that never went off again. They took the lead with a 10-3 run, and after UMBC equalized at 20-20, Maryland won five straight points to take the set. A sloppy Terrapin stretch in the fourth let UMBC take a 12-9 lead, but another 5-0 Maryland run was the turning point. The Terps won the fourth set, 25-18, to finish off a season-opening victory.
Junior Angel Gaskin posted a career-high 14 kills and hit .476 on the attack, while freshman Erika Pritchard added 12 kills and nine digs in her first college match. Five players made their Maryland debuts, making up nearly half of the Terps’ 11-player rotation.
Saturday morning: Maryland 3, Northeastern 1
Maryland hit .026 in the first set, .296 in the second, .429 in the third and .400 in the fourth. In a related story, the Terps won the last three sets easily to improve to 2-0.
Northeastern captured the opening frame, 25-21, mostly as a result of Maryland’s mistakes. The Terps’ .026 hitting percentage was lowlighted by 11 attack errors. They fell behind 11-8 in the second set before catching fire and staying hot the rest of the way. A 6-1 run gave Maryland the lead, and the Terps won 17 of the final 23 points to square the match with a 25-17 victory.
Maryland breezed through the third and fourth sets, winning 25-18 and 25-14, respectively. The Terps didn’t trail at all after the intermission.
Redshirt freshman Katie Myers led the way with 10 kills, 10 blocks and a team-high .588 hitting percentage. Gaskin notched 12 kills and seven blocks. Northeastern setter Kristen Walding had 28 assists and four kills, but it wasn’t enough.
Saturday evening: Maryland 3, Temple 2
The first two sets broke the opposite way as the first two matches, with Maryland winning the first and dropping the second. The Terps held on to capture the third set, 25-23, but fell behind early and could never catch up in the fourth.
Maryland scored the first three points of the deciding fifth set, but six straight Temple points forced Aird to call timeout. The Terps responded to take the lead, and behind some dominant play by a pair of rookies, they overtook the Owls, 15-11.
Pritchard led Maryland with 16 kills, while sophomore Gia Milana and freshman Sam Drechsel added 15. The two freshmen played their best at the end of the match, with Drechsel slamming down three straight kills late in the final set.
Milana struggled early and was benched for parts of the first and second sets. “It was a lot of me taking a deep breath, just regrouping,” she said of her time off the floor. “I feel like every athlete has little stuff they go through, and you just got to learn how to get back into it.” She was a stalwart down the stretch, adding 10 digs and a .250 hitting percentage to the 15 kills.
A strong first impression
This was fans’ first look at a new-look Maryland team. Five true freshmen saw playing time over the weekend, while sophomore Samantha Snyder made her Terps debut and redshirt freshman Katie Myers returned after playing just two sets last season. For that group to go 3-0 in its first weekend together is encouraging.
“It definitely makes us all a lot more confident,” Drechsel said. “We kind of came in not knowing how good we could be, because Coach has been telling us and everything, but you don’t really believe it ‘til you’re doing it.”
It wasn’t always smooth—Aird said that “at times, we were pretty sloppy, pretty mindless and didn’t have a good feel of collectively what I want the group to do”—but Maryland overcame a pair of 1-0 deficits and pulled through in a back-and-forth fifth set against the Owls. Those are the types of matches the Terps were losing last year.
Maryland showcased a depth that it didn’t have in recent years; even when Milana wasn’t playing well, the freshmen picked up the offensive slack while she was on the sideline. Against a team that returned the nucleus of a 22-8 squad last year, Maryland’s rookies played like seasoned veterans.
“What I like about them is they’re brave,” Aird said. “They’re not afraid to hit the ball, and hit the ball hard. And at the end of the [Temple] match, they kind of carried us to the win there.”
The Terps will travel south for the Liberty Invitational next weekend. They’ll play Liberty on Friday night, then Elon and Furman on Saturday. All three teams finished below the Terps in RPI last season, but a young team’s first road test can be difficult.