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Maryland volleyball falls in straight sets to No. 7 Minnesota

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The Terps were unable to get in the win column in their home opener.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

With Maryland volleyball down 15-7 to No. 7 Minnesota in the second set, Rainelle Jones got the team going with a solo block. Nicole Alford followed the play up with a service ace that just barely skimmed the top of the net, kickstarting a solid run by the Terrapins.

Erika Pritchard killed the ball off the forearm of Stephanie Samedy and out of bounds to cut the deficit to 18-15, leading to Golden Gopher head coach Hugh McCutcheon calling a timeout. From there, the set took a huge turn.

Minnesota roared back to life with a 7-2 run, culminated by a kill from freshman Taylor Landfair, to push the Terps to the breaking point in a crucial third set, where they ultimately lost the match (16-25, 17-25, 23-25).

“They’re a very scrappy team ... [they] kind of force you to win in transition,” head coach Adam Hughes said. “If you’re always playing from behind and having problems with the first touch, you’re playing off the next and [it] makes their defense that much better.”

A lot of times, it seemed the Terps gave all they could, only for the No. 7 team in the country to thwart any momentum swing from the home team. With the defeat, Maryland falls to 0-3 on the season, marking its worst start since 2011.

Maryland let a ton of early opportunities slip through in the first set. Minnesota was able to find gaps on the Terrapin side of the court due to stellar serving from junior CC McGraw.

The Golden Gophers capitalized on Maryland’s mistakes, going on a 6-1 run with a beautiful fake set by freshman Melani Shaffmaster to take a 10-6 lead.

Sam Burgio made some great saves towards the middle of the set, including a skin-screeching slide to continue the volley that ultimately went to the Golden Gophers. Jones followed up the lost point with a punishing kill to shrink the deficit back to three.

Numerous volleys persisted throughout the first set, but it began to get out of reach of the Terrapins at the 19-12 mark, when Shaffmaster made a similar fake set play, fooling the opposing defense and finding the middle of the Maryland side.

The Gophers continued their stellar defense and proficient offensive attack to put the Terps away, 25-16. Samedy laid on the set-sealing point, with the Maryland volley attempt slipping past the fingertips of Pritchard.

The second set saw much of the same, with Minnesota working the defensive side and thus leaving the Terps with their hands tied on the offensive side. Even when Maryland began to piece together a bit of a run, the Golden Gophers had a response to take the set.

Samedy had five kills in the set, which paced the Golden Gophers, while Landfair completed the route with two kills — both assisted by Shaffmaster — to put the Terps away for good.

Maryland showed a lot more fight in the third set, as the team implemented a much more poised and balanced defensive system to stifle the Minnesota attack.

“We [made] adjustments in serve receive and whether we take a step up or step back and who has what seam,” Burgio said. Alford added, “We were really more consistent with our communication and our moves in general, so I think that we trusted ourselves a little bit more and played more freely.”

Rebekah Rath helped spearhead the offense while Pritchard was on the bench, but Minnesota wouldn’t go away. After the Golden Gophers took a 19-18 lead, Maryland endured its biggest run of the night, with Jones and Cara Lewis partnering up for a huge block after a massive windup from Samedy to give the Terps a 22-19 lead.

Two kills from the Gophers via assists from Shaffmaster cut the road team’s deficit to two, only for Minnesota to emerge from a timeout with two quick points off of a service ace from sophomore Rachel Kilkelly and a kill towards the back right of the Terrapins side by Samedy.

With Maryland suddenly on the ropes, Minnesota converted the match point via an attacking error from Rath. The call was challenged, but after the official review, the line judge gave Minnesota its decisive point, sealing the sweep by the Golden Gophers.

“It was just a cat and mouse game,” Alford said. “You see what they throw at you and then you keep adjusting, so that was a constant battle reading what they were doing and how they were maneuvering against us.”

Three things to know

1. Minnesota was impenetrable. It seemed like whatever Maryland threw at the Golden Gophers, the team up north had an answer. Much of that response from head coach Hugh McCutcheon’s squad came from starting libero McGraw, who constantly seemed to be in prime position for a dig.

The stout frontline for the Golden Gophers also proved troublesome for the Terrapins, with former Terp Katie Myers and her new teammates stifling many opportunities from the home team.

2. Erika Pritchard’s absence gave way to some new faces. Pritchard finished with nine points, tied for the team high, which included seven kills and two service aces, but she took a seat in the third set to give time to some new faces for Maryland. Freshman Sam Csire was one of the main beneficiaries from coach Hughes’s decision and the third year coach hopes the move will pay dividends down the line.

3. Maryland continues to show some fight. Thus far this season, it seems that no matter the score, Maryland will continue to fight. Two separate occasions, the Terps found themselves down big in the second set, only for a massive comeback to take place.

The result Friday may not have been as promising as the valiant effort itself, but the Terps showed that they are never out. Even down 2-0, the Terps continued to battle in third set and held a slight advantage for the majority of the set.

“We really want to start the match tomorrow like we came out in that third set,” Alford said. “We were really aggressive and we executed our scouting report a lot better in that third set and that’s going to be our focus in the morning when we go into our pregame serve-and-passes.”