Coming into the weekend, Maryland volleyball had three consecutive matches with hitting percentages under .200.
Though it was unlikely the Terps could pull off victories against two top-10 opponents in No. 6 Minnesota and No. 4 Wisconsin, they were hoping to at least make improvements on the offensive side of the ball.
But Maryland’s struggles continued with hitting percentages of .175 and .054, respectively, extendings its losing streak to five with straight-set losses to No. 6 Minnesota (18-3, 12-1 Big Ten) and No. 4 Wisconsin (16-5, 12-1).
And it certainly didn’t help that on Thursday, the Terps lost redshirt sophomore middle blocker Katie Myers to a sprained foot. Myers, along with junior setter Nicole Alford, were both sidelined for the weekend’s matches.
Minnesota (21-25, 19-25, 21-25)
Maryland missed Alford and Myers against the Golden Gophers from the start as once again, the Terps fell into an early hole, trailing by as much as 13-7 in set one. Despite a large deficit, Maryland clawed back thanks to the service game — specifically two in a five-point stretch to cut Minnesota’s lead to three.
The Terps eventually cut the lead to one, 18-17, but the hill was too big to climb as the Gophers took the opening set, hitting .325 in the process with 18 kills. Maryland’s .250 hitting percentage and 11 kills in the set were a good sign compared to its last four matches, where it averaged just over 10 kills a set, hitting a combined .154.
It felt like the team’s energy was lost after the first as Maryland struggled to generate offense in the second set. Though the score was close early, Minnesota used a 6-1 run to stretch the lead out to seven. Maryland cut the lead to three late, but the Golden Gophers put on an offensive clinic, led by Adanna Rollins, who had six kills in the set.
“I feel like compared to last year, Minnesota’s a completely different team. We’re a complete different team too,” middle blocker Rainelle Jones said. “We need to take advantage of that, not knowing what they are and using our advantage.”
Even as Maryland kept points alive off redirections from the rafters, Minnesota extended its lead to 19-13 late in the third off a 3-0 run. A late 8-3 Maryland run that began with a Rebekah Rath kill cut the deficit to one, but all momentum was shut down as the Golden Gophers pulled out a close set win.
“Hughes said in the meeting after the game that we played free and there’s not a lot of expectations, but once it gets tight, we feel the pressure,” outside hitter Erika Pritchard said. “We just need to help each other out more in those situations and just play our game and keep doing what we’re doing.”
Wisconsin (18-25, 13-25, 13-25)
Friday’s match was quickly washed out, or at least it seemed like it early in Saturday’s match as Maryland came out hot with an early 4-1 lead.
That faded away quickly though as Wisconsin used a run to tie the match at 10-10 and an 8-1 run later to storm ahead, taking a commanding 20-15 lead. The Badgers went on to win the set 25-18.
“I feel like we have trouble starting and finishing games,” libero Allegra Rivas said. “Usually in the middle of the game, we lay back or let go a little bit and we don’t capitalize on what we can do. We try to manage our errors, but we get too focused on minimizing them that it just maximizes them.”
While the Terps had 12 kills in the set, the Badgers turned things around quickly, hitting .389 in the set with 17 kills to comfortably take the set after an early scare.
Wisconsin kept the momentum in the second, jumping out to an early eight-point advantage thanks to an 8-1 run separated by a Dana Rettke service error.
Rettke took over the set, landing three straight kills late as the Badgers extended the lead to 19-9 in the second. Using a 6-0 run to go up 21-9, the Badgers continued to dominate on the attack, hitting .517 with 18 kills while Maryland had just three with five attack errors.
Set three was as dominant of a performance as the Badgers jumped out to a 6-1 lead and continued to build, maintaining a double-digit lead for much of the set. Maryland was lost on the attack, hitting .000 in the set while Wisconsin hit .323.
A late run gave Wisconsin a commanding 23-10 lead in the set, and while the Terps stayed alive by saving a couple match points, they were just delaying the inevitable. The Badgers hit .406 in the match finishing with 27 more kills than Maryland.
“I was very disappointed in our performance tonight. I think Wisconsin probably came in pretty fired up after losing that first match of Big Ten play,” head coach Adam Hughes said. “At the same time, I don’t think, even with a somewhat depleted starting rotation, that we didn’t play up to our expectations or our standards.”
Three things to know
1. Maryland’s cold streak continues. The toughest part of the conference schedule hasn’t gone well to say the least, as the Terps have dropped five straight matches and 15 straight sets. It’s very unlikely that Maryland makes the NCAA Tournament at this point.
2. The offense has been held in check. Maryland has been silent on the attacking end during this current skid, hitting under .200 in all five matches, averaging around 29 kills per match, just under 10 kills a set.
3. The Terps can’t close sets or gain momentum. Throughout this losing streak, Maryland has had chances to take sets — like in last two sets of the Minnesota match and set one of the Wisconsin match. However, in crunch time, the Terps have faltered under pressure.