After a 2-1 set lead flew out the window for Maryland women’s volleyball in Friday’s season opener, the team looked to right the ship in Saturday’s rematch and leave Columbus with a win.
Once again, the matchup was a closely contest battle that came down to a do or die fifth set. But after intense play throughout, the Terps were caught sleeping in the decisive frame.
With everything notched at 12-12, a net violation by Jada Gardner broke the tie in favor of the Buckeyes. The home team followed up Gardner’s mistake with a service ace from Mac Podraza, which sailed over a ducking Rebekah Rath to just hit inbounds.
With one last chance at match point, the Terps fumbled along the far side of the net, with Pritchard’s last ditch effort to find the opposite side hitting the net and concluding the weekend sweep by Ohio State by a score of 3-2 (26-24, 19-25, 24-26, 26-24, 12-15).
“Obviously a little disappointing to lose another five setter this early in the season, but I was proud of the group to continue to fight,” head coach Adam Hughes said.
After a 2-1 set lead flew out the window for the Terrapins in Friday’s season opener, the team looked to right the ship in Saturday’s rematch and leave Columbus with a win.
The duo of Rainelle Jones and Gardner, who dominated at the net on Friday, didn’t take long to deny the Buckeyes some more, as Emily Londot’s attack was thwarted by the two for the opening point of the match.
But Maryland couldn’t feed off the opening stop, as Ohio State rattled off five straight points thanks to a trio of kills from Londot (2) and senior Lauren Witte (1).
Led by captain Pritchard, who had two early kills in quick succession, the Terps hung around despite being outworked by the Buckeyes’ high octane attacks. It wasn’t until a 6-1 run started by a Gabby Gonzales kill, and maintained by solid frontline defense late in the set, that gave the home team some space.
That separation was short lived, however, as Pritchard began to take over. Trailing by as much as five points late in the set, the senior slammed her foot on the gas pedal.
It was an encouraging sight to see the leadership of Pritchard taking off in such a powerful way. By her standards, Pritchard was rather quiet in Friday’s match, taking a backseat to the defensive firepower exhibited by Gardner and Jones.
“After the first night, I was determined to learn and take the steps to reevaluate and quickly adjust to their defense,” Pritchard said. “This helped me in today’s match, as well as my team putting me in good situations to fly through and attack those seams on their side.”
Out of Maryland’s second timeout, a twisting volley created by sophomore Rebekah Rath set up Pritchard with the opportunity to pierce a spike into the oppositions backline. This score gave Maryland its first lead since the opening score.
After a few back and forth’s on the match point, Gardner, who tormented the Buckeyes with six of her own kills, caused a ricochet off the backline to hand the Terps the come-from-behind victory.
The momentum continued into the second set as two kills via Pritchard, plus an additional kill from Gardner, helped put Maryland out in front 4-0.
Ohio State didn’t let the early deficit phase them, however, as they continued to attack the holes in the Maryland defense to take a slight lead into the halfway point of the set.
An Erika Pritchard spike into Podraza’s face to push the set to a 13-13 tie may have personified her dominant afternoon, but it couldn’t help kickstart another late run for the Terps as they dropped the second set 25-19.
The third set, much like Friday’s, saw an old-fashioned, Western-style showdown between the two teams, but as Friday’s grudge match went in Maryland’s direction thanks to Jones’s and Gardner’s decisive block, Saturday’s third set saw the Buckeyes take control.
Tied at 24, Maryland and Ohio State found themselves in another grudge match to decide who would win the third set. A spike from the opposition left Nicole Alford reeling, only for the senior to make an amazing diving dig to keep the point alive for the Terps.
“The only thing that was going through my head was that I’m going to give 100% effort,” Alford said. “There was no way I was going to let my team down in that moment.”
Another backpedalling save by Alford continued the nail-biter, but it was a polarizing spike from Londot that gave the Buckeyes the edge. A Gabby Gonzales service ace concluded the set, giving Ohio State the huge 26-24 win in set number three.
With the Terps reeling, Ohio State looked to strike the final blow in the fourth set. A 15-7 lead quickly turned to a 15-14 lead, which was aided by a pair of kills from both Rath and Gardner.
In what has already proven typical for the Terps this season, they kept chipping and chipping away, even after a Londot kill and back-to-back services aces from Jenaisya Moore pushed the Terps deficit to four.
A nice run by the Terps now found the Buckeyes reeling after being up by as much as eight points earlier in the set. Tied at 21, Alford and Cara Lewis stifled Gonzales’s kill attempt to a raucous ovation as Maryland inched closer to completing another comeback.
“One of our values that we established this year was that we were going to be relentless in everything that we did,” Alford said. “This is a group of girls who fight for each other and we weren’t going to let [the set] slip away from us.”
Following the Ohio State timeout, a few back and forth’s commenced, but after an official’s review, the initial point scored by the Buckeyes was overturned in favor of the Terrapins. The decisive point was granted to the Terps, pushing another fifth set.
Yet, once again, Maryland couldn’t get it done what it mattered most in the final frame, resulting in a 0-2 start to the season for Hughes’ squad.
Three things to know
1. Kills. Kills. Kills. In the opening match, Maryland was too reliant on Ohio State’s mistakes. A substantial difference in kills and 31 total errors from the Buckeyes highlighted the squad’s failure to consistently attack, but Saturday was a different story.
The Terps had 60 kills to the Ohio State’s 68, which is a far cry from the -21 margin that coach Hughes’s team slumbered through the previous day. The boost can be heavily attributed to standouts Pritchard and Gardner, who had 20 and 17 kills, respectively.
2. Maryland was full throttle from start to finish. With Maryland dropping Friday’s match in five sets, the sluggish start for the Terps in the first set loomed large in the film room as the team recuperated ahead of Saturday’s rematch.
“We needed to stop runs more than anything,” Hughes said. “The other thing is trying to stay mentally present. Sometimes when there’s three or four point runs you can get into a negative mindset .. I didn’t think it was nearly as up and down as it was before.”
The improvement was evident from the start in the second match, as Maryland battled the entirety of the first set to eventually emerge victorious with a 26-24 victory. From then on, regardless on if they trailed or not, Maryland fought in each set. The gutty performance from the road team helped show the rest of the conference that Maryland is not a team that can be put away quite easily.
3. Cara Lewis has seemingly cracked the rotation. A lot of questions were left unanswered heading into this season as to how Hughes was going to shuffle his rotation around after numerous losses. From what was seen in this weekend’s series, Cara Lewis seems to be a major player for Maryland this season.
After only appearing in six sets her freshman year, Lewis has taken a significant sophomore leap thus far. On Friday, Lewis saw the court in all five sets, scoring four points and recording six blocks. She followed up that career performance with six more blocks in Saturday’s tough loss, cementing herself as a key piece for Maryland in 2021.