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Maryland volleyball falls to Ohio State in season opener

The Terps jumped out to a 2-1 lead, but fell in five sets.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Socially distanced benches and a scarce crowd set a unique backdrop for Maryland volleyball’s opening matchup against Ohio State Friday afternoon.

On the road facing the Buckeyes, the Terps bounced back from a bad start to win both the second and third sets, seemingly having the match in their hands. But they couldn’t hold on to a 2-1 lead, forcing a decisive fifth set.

Freshman Emily Londot completed the comeback for the Buckeyes, ricocheting a spike off of Erika Pritchard on the backline on the final play. The ball sailed backwards, halting the set at 15-13 and forcing Maryland into a 3-2 defeat (21-25, 25-18, 25-23, 15-25, 13-15) to start the 2021 season.

“We missed some opportunities there in the fifth,” head coach Adam Hughes said. “I think we watched two or three balls fall...that’s the difference in essentially picking up the W there. So I think it’s disappointing just because we knew that those are some of those opportunities we had in front of us.”

Whether it be the long layoff or jet lag, the Terps found themselves looking sluggish in the first set. Maryland found itself in an early hole as mistakes spacing on both the attack and defense were apparent.

However, a 5-0 run started by a ferocious Rebekah Rath kill and a trio of attacking errors from the Buckeyes put the set back in reach for Maryland.

From then on, the Terps hung around, chipping away at Ohio State’s lead as the set waned on thanks to some vital misses on the side of the Buckeyes. It wasn’t until back-to-back kills by sophomore Mac Podraza and Londot and a subsequent timeout by Hughes, his second of the set, that the Terps began to feel the pressure.

The final nail in the coffin for the Terps’ comeback efforts came at the hands of Jenaisya Moore, who found the back right corner for the set-sealing kill.

The second set saw the Terps play a lot better as a cohesive unit, taking an early 4-2 advantage off the leadership of Erika Pritchard and Rebekah Rath. The senior-sophomore duo had 10 and 12 kills, respectively, and had the Terps in a solid rhythm after a mediocre first set.

But up until the midway point, the two teams found themselves in an old-fashioned standoff, with neither taking more than a two-point lead in the first half of the set.

With the two sides jostling for momentum, the duo of Jada Gardner and Rainelle Jones combined for a thunderous block on Moore to give the Terps a 12-10 lead. This was the boost Maryland needed, as the Terps continued their rock solid defense and efficient offensive attack en route to a 25-18 victory in the second set off of a powerful spike by Jones.

“I was happy that we were chipping away just trying to get comfortable [in the first set],” Hughes said. “The difference in the sets that we were competitive in was definitely second pass ... we were pretty aggressive and kept them out of their system.”

Consecutive kills by Pritchard set the tone for Maryland’s early 9-6 lead in the third set, but only this time it was the Buckeyes who got the much needed jolt thanks to stellar defense off the heels of Adria Powell and Londot.

With Ohio State up 16-13, the Terps managed to hang around thanks to freshman Cara Lewis’ three blocks in the final seven points for the Terrapins — including the set-sealing block with Rath by her side. Lewis had four total blocks in just the third set.

Lewis may have sealed the set, but it was Gardner and Jones again proving to be the difference makers down the stretch for the Terps. With the score locked up at 22, Gardner and Jones erupted for another key block for Maryland. This helped Maryland fend off the Buckeyes as it emerged from the third set victorious.

“We definitely had a lot of communication on the court,” said Jones about her chemistry with Gardner. “We had a good idea of what we wanted to do and how we were going to execute that against [Ohio State].”

The fourth set was all Ohio State though. Despite a few mini-sparks by the Terps, the Buckeyes took control with multiple runs throughout the set. A 7-0 run early, followed by two sets of four point runs gave the Buckeyes a 17-9 lead. Ultimately, Ohio State won the set by a dominating 10 points, sending the match to the decisive fifth set.

The teams traded kills in the early going of the fifth set before an official’s review overturned an initial no-point for the Buckeyes. Ohio State took control from there as it forced Hughes to burn through two timeouts following back to back service aces by Podraza.

Maryland pieced together a few kills at the end to inch closer to a victory, but Ohio State’s discipline held out for the win against a valiant effort by the Terps.

“You’re obviously disappointed with the loss, but there’s a lot of stuff in the film that will tell us some things that we need to do,” Hughes said.

Three things to know

1. Maryland had the block advantage. The Terps found most of their success in the middle of the match thanks to strong play at the net. Maryland tallied 13 blocks across all five sets, including nine coming between sets two and three, compared to Ohio State’s 10. Rainelle Jones and Cara Lewis were tied for most individual blocks with six each, while Jada Gardner added five of her own.

2. Jada Gardner and Rainelle Jones could be a problem for Big Ten teams up front. If any two players could be described as the heart and soul of Maryland’s performance today, it would be the duo of Jada Gardner and Rainelle Jones. On both of their momentum shifting blocks, plus numerous other defensive plays, the two showed how dangerous they can be for the Maryland front line.

“Throughout practice we get to challenge each other on the blocks,” Gardner said. “We’ve really gotten good at our timing together and getting low into seams and taking up a lot of space.”

The pair also played solid offense as well, with Gardner notching eight kills and Jones totaling 12, including a scorching kill by Jones to win a pivotal third set for the Terps.

3. Maryland relied on the other team’s mistakes. Sprinkled into Maryland’s season opener were a bunch of powerful kill points, but the Terps relied heavily on the Buckeyes’s mistakes to keep them in the sets a lot of the time. Ohio State had 31 errors compared to Maryland’s 24 to go along with the +21 kill margin in favor of the Buckeyes. If Maryland is going to want to be competitive in the almighty Big Ten, they are going to have to be more consistent on the offensive side.