Maryland volleyball was riding high after freshman outside hitter Rebekah Rath served the Terps out in the fourth set of their 3-1 match win over Arkansas on Friday night. The Terps went on an 8-0 run in that set to take it 25-19.
The Terps hit a wall against George Mason, losing in five sets, and it looked like the weekend was lost playing a Princeton team they lost to in five last season.
However, Maryland found its stride late to overcome the Tigers in five sets, finishing the weekend 2-1 at the Maryland Invitational.
“This morning’s loss was really disappointing and I think we had a really good chat afterwards, not really negative, but this is where we are. This is what we have to learn from,” head coach Adam Hughes said. “... I thought they did a good job in a tough spot. I thought it was a good response.”
Maryland hit well, .318 against the Razorbacks and .222 against the Patriots, and served well overall, with 26 total service aces in the first two matches. The service errors overshadowed the aces — especially in the match against Princeton where the Terps had 16 with seven service aces.
While Maryland fell behind on the serve, the Terps capitalized on the attack with Rath. She led the Terps with 53 kills on the weekend, including a career-high 21 against Princeton.
“She’s done a really good job from the service line. I think she’s getting better from a blocking standpoint,” Hughes said. “Serve and receive was good today. She helped us in more ways than one and sometimes that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.”
Erika Pritchard was a close second with 50 kills and Katie Myers had a great blocking weekend with 15 total blocks, along with 25 kills.
Arkansas (25-22, 23-25, 26-24, 25-19)
The Terps were faced with a tough opponent out the gate, and it showed as the four sets were decided by a combined 13 points. Maryland, who started out hitting .154 in set one, rebounded, hitting over .340 in the last three sets and .318 in the match.
The Razorbacks were clinical on the attack, hitting .500 in set two and .250 in the match, but it was their .059 hitting percentage in set four that helped Maryland take the match, along with an 8-0 run late led by Rath at the service line.
That was one of two runs that helped change the tide of the match, both started by Rath. The other was a 4-0 run in the first set that gave the Terps some breathing room as they got out to a 1-0 match lead.
Devyn Wheeler and Elizabeth Pamphile were the standout stars for the Arkansas offense, hitting .379 and .667, respectively, with 23 combined kills.
It was Myers and Rath who carried the Terps. Myers hit .769 with 10 kills, four service aces and three block assists. Rath led the team with 15 kills and six service aces.
George Mason (26-28, 25-15, 23-25, 25-9, 14-16)
Maryland found success in the even sets, while George Mason controlled the odds. The Terps blew out the Patriots in sets two and four, hitting .280 and .348 in those sets.
It helped that George Mason hit -.143 and -.095. But in the odd sets, the Terps fell short in close two-point affairs, including sets one and five that were decided by extra points. George Mason hit .077 in the match with Maryland hitting .222, and despite having three more total errors, the Patriots made their points count.
Pritchard and Rath led the Terps on offense. Pritchard had 20 kills, hitting .270 and Rath had 17 kills, hitting .289. The two combined for seven service aces. But once again, Myers was more efficient on offense, hitting .500 with nine kills.
The Terps had the opportunity to take a 1-0 match lead, controlling a 24-22 advantage after a 4-0 run in the first set. However, the Patriots fought off two straight set points, going on a 6-2 run to take the set.
A similar situation happened in set three, where the Terps had a 23-20 lead late. It didn’t last as George Mason ended the set on a 5-0 run to take a 2-1 match lead.
Despite a dominant 25-9 win in set four, George Mason kept the fifth close. Despite Maryland having a 10-7 lead late, George Mason ended the set on a 9-4 run to win the match decisively.
“We knew we had to work harder and work better together and just leave it all out on the court, because the next match was only a couple of hours away,” Rath said.
Princeton (26-24, 23-25, 22-25, 25-20, 15-9)
Saturday night’s finale was a rematch of last season at the Temple Invite, where the Tigers defeated the Terps in five sets. Maryland battled back from a 2-0 deficit in that match, losing 16-14 in the fifth.
“It was something that we all had in the back of our minds,” sophomore outside hitter Emma Schriner said. “It just put more pressure on us and we knew that we had to put together a really good match to have the success we wanted last year.”
Unlike the way that match started, Maryland took the early 1-0 lead in a close first set. In the opening set, the Terps benefited from Princeton hitting .070, with 14 kills and 11 attack errors. Maryland hit .229 in the set with a .314 kill percentage.
It didn’t help that the Terps had 11 service errors with three service aces in the first three sets.
“I thought we were actually really bad early,” Hughes said. “We finished really well down the stretch. Some of that is just sticking with it and knowing that the last error doesn’t necessarily lead to the next outcome.”
Princeton began pulling away in the second set despite a two-point win, going on a 7-4 run after Maryland took a 19-18 lead late to take the set and tie the match. The Tigers began to distance themselves in the third set, utilizing a 4-0 run to take a 16-10 lead in the middle of the match.
What made the difference in the match, despite Princeton having considerably more attack errors than the Terps, was the aggressive nature of Princeton. Elena Montgomery, who had a game-high 23 kills, and Devon Peterkin, who had 17 kills, made the difference for the Tigers. Maryland countered with Rath and Pritchard, who had 21 and 19 kills respectively.
“It really just comes down to grit and knowing that every ball you play counts,” Schriner said.
Maryland made a match of it in the fourth, pushing it to five sets. The Terps’ 13-7 run in the middle of the set gave them a 18-12 lead, too much for the Tigers to overcome.
In the fifth, Maryland got out to a hot start, leading as big as 8-4 before Princeton evened the set at eight apiece. From then on, Maryland didn't hold back, going on a 7-1 run to end the set and take the match in five.
“It’s the fifth set. It’s do or die,” Rath said. “You don’t have time to play catch-up so if you don’t start strong, you let it slip away and we were not letting another one slip away.”
Three things to know
1. Rebekah Rath has dominated so far as a freshman. Rath has been impactful in Maryland’s starting rotation, especially at the service line. Her six service aces against Arkansas were a big reason for the Terps’ four-set victory over the Razorbacks. She also led the team in kills and service aces.
2. Katie Myers was efficient on the attack. In her first two matches of the weekend, Myers hit .769 and .500 respectively, with 19 kills and one attack error on 29 swings, good enough for a .655 hitting percentage.
3. Maryland loves its five-set matches. Maryland has more than its fair share of five-setters so far this season, with six in their first nine matches. The Terps had six five-setters all of last season, but their record this season has been 3-3.