After storming back against Northwestern to win two consecutive sets, Maryland volleyball was in prime position to come out strong in the fourth and exit its road match with a victory.
Instead, the Terps let the Wildcats, who are winless in Big Ten play, jump out to a 10-3 lead early. And though Maryland made it a closer contest, Northwestern once again got the best of it, forcing a fifth set.
But the Terps (12-9, 4-5 Big Ten) were able to hang on in the tiebreaker thanks to an early 6-2 lead, escaping Evanston, Illinois, with a 3-2 victory.
“I’m happy to get a road win. In the Big Ten, you gotta crawl and scrap and get anything you can, but I thought we were pretty inconsistent tonight,” head coach Adam Hughes said. “I didn’t think we played up to our standards.”
Despite its lackluster play in conference matchups so far, Northwestern (9-12, 0-9 Big Ten) took the early momentum in set one, bursting out to an early 7-3 lead with an overwhelming, aggressive attack that was flirting with a .600 hitting percentage for much of the set.
Maryland tied the score at 12 and later used a 7-1 run to cut Northwestern’s lead to 22-21, but the Wildcats did just enough to take the set, thanks outside hitter Temi-Thomas Ailara’s four kills.
“I think it’s tough when you go on the road like that. You try to get a little bit of an advantage,” Hughes said. “I didn’t think we were necessarily out-of-system, I just didn’t think we were aggressive enough out of the gate.”
In the second, Maryland took the momentum back, finally coming out of the gates a set late. The Terps jumped out to a 10-4 lead but Northwestern would eventually tie the set at 17 apiece.
The Wildcats carried a big run to nearly win the set, but a .222 hitting percentage proved too efficient to pull off the victory. Despite six service errors from Maryland, the deficit was too big to overcome as the Terps evened the match at one set each.
“We came in really confident and trusted our training,” junior Erika Pritchard said. “We gelled really well tonight. Staying positive really helped.”
Another quick burst put Maryland ahead early in the third set — the attack was starting to click, building a 19-13 lead late from a 5-1 run. Like Northwestern in set one, the Terps were flirting with a .600 hitting percentage, but it didn't feel like the Wildcats were in the set, coming out flat.
Hitting .379 in the set to Northwestern’s .097, Maryland continued to build the lead late, ending the set on a 5-1 run to take a 2-1 match lead with a statement set. The Terps trailed Northwestern in total kills after set three, but were hitting at a .337 clip with their two best attackers hitting well over .350.
After going down 10-3 in the fourth, Maryland worked its way back into the set, going on an 11-5 run to close the gap to 15-14. However, that was as close as the Terps got, as the Wildcats began to build a big lead late, thanks to an attack hitting .433 that forced the match to five sets.
The theme of the hot hand continued in the set tiebreaker, with the Terps taking a 6-2 lead. The defense kept it and extended it, with two early blocks and a big dig from Allegra Rivas to keep a point alive early. Maryland ended the match on a 5-0 run thanks to three straight kills from Katie Myers.
“I kept trying to stay aggressive,” Myers said. “The past couple of days, I’ve been working on my timing with the setters. Nicole and [Sam] Snyder were both giving me really good balls. On Northwestern’s side, I saw and open court and I wanted to bang it.”
Three things to know
1. Erika Pritchard was efficient on the attack. Pritchard’s 18 kills in the match weren’t a season or career-high, she was efficient on the attack, hitting .302. She’s continued to improve on hitting efficiency and it has begun to pay off this season.
2. No one could stop Katie Myers. Myers is one of the most efficient hitters in the conference and the country, and that continued against the Wildcats. She hit .640 with 16 kills and no attack errors, a big key to Maryland’s success in the match.
3. Maryland is still struggling with the hot start. It took a set for the Terps to get things going, but Maryland has had far too many matches this season, failing to take the early lead. It has cost them before, but not on Wednesday, winning its third five-setter in conference play.