With Maryland volleyball hanging around in the second set of Saturday’s matchup against No. 7 Minnesota, sophomore outside hitter Rebekah Rath loaded up for a punishing spike to cut the Terps’ deficit to three.
Standing in her way from making the score 16-13 was former teammate Katie Myers, who transferred over the offseason. Myers took the liberty of making a huge solo block on Rath’s kill attempt and followed up the phenomenal defensive play with another block, accompanied by Melani Shaffmaster, against Erika Pritchard.
These two plays helped spark a 6-0 run for Minnesota, ultimately locking up the second set. Maryland once again couldn’t find a way to match the Golden Gophers in the third set, suffering its second sweep in as many days.
With the defeat, the Terps start the season with an 0-4 record for the first time since 1989.
“We’re never going to take a moral victory out of something, but I thought the level of play tonight was better than it was last night,” Hughes said. “It’s early in the season and I thought Minnesota was very clean.”
Through the first two sets in Friday’s sweep, Minnesota was able to handle most of the home team’s offensive attack. But the third set saw the Terps show a little dog in the fight. Maryland was scrappy from start to finish in that final frame, and Adam Hughes’s squad hoped to mirror that energy in Saturday’s rematch.
Junior middle blocker Rainelle Jones started the scoring with a kill that narrowly avoided the volley attempt by Minnesota’s CC McGraw. Pritchard followed up with a kill of her own to show Minnesota that the Terps were here to play.
“They’re very disciplined, so having a game plan in the beginning and then executing even more the next day helps a lot,” Jones said about Maryland’s fiery start.
Maryland had done what it set out to do, starting hot to take a 5-2 lead, but the Golden Gophers woke up after taking advantage of a serving error by Pritchard.
A thunderous kill from the freshman Taylor Landfair, who continued her solid weekend, got the ball rolling. An all too familiar move from Shaffmaster followed the punishing spike from Landfair, as her signature fake set duped the Maryland defense and gave the Gophers an early 8-6 lead.
Rath came back with one of her own fakes, fooling the Minnesota front by finessing a high floating kill over the Gophers’s wall to slow down a three-point run from Minnesota. But once Maryland seemed to be closing the gap, a volley attempt by sophomore Rachel Kilkelly resulted in a lost contact, subsequently pausing play for a few minutes. From there, Minnesota began to impose its will on the Terps with more poised defensive rotations and impressive attacks from Landfair.
Maryland was not backing down just yet, however, as not one, not two, but three kill attempts by Pritchard were thwarted by the Golden Gophers before the captain finally converted on one to tie the set at 21 apiece.
After a block from Jones and Jada Gardner gave Maryland a 22-21 lead, its first since the fifth point, Adanna Rollins and the Gophers answered back.
Rollins ended Maryland’s four point run with a kill through the backline to knot up the score at 22. Two attacking errors from the Terps left Minnesota tasting victory, and a final kill from Rollins ended the Terps’s comeback efforts, sealing the first set, 25-23, in Minnesota’s favor.
Minnesota jumped out to an early 4-1 lead in the second set after Stephanie Samedy made her presence known with a ferocious kill to the back corner on Maryland’s side. Another error from the home team — this time being a receiving error via Pritchard — resulted in Maryland head coach Adam Hughes calling a timeout to try and figure out a way to stifle Minnesota’s momentum.
Hughes made a few substitutions to try and plug a spark in the lineup, but Shaffmaster responded with a light over the shoulder kill to thwart any shift in momentum following Maryland’s timeout.
But it was to no avail. The Gophers continued to capitalize on Maryland’s miscues and Myers helped spark a 6-0 run with two blocks.
McGraw put the finishing touches on an exceptional set from the Golden Gophers by finding another hole in Maryland’s armor. The service ace captured the second set by a score of 25-18 and pushed Maryland to its breaking point.
The third set saw the same poised attack from Minnesota that had controlled the weekend series. The Gophers jumped on the Terrapins early and often to give themselves a comfortable 11-4 cushion.
Down 20-10, Cara Lewis looked to get it going for the Terps with a powerful kill, but the Gophers remained on top of Maryland’s comeback efforts and took a commanding 24-15 lead heading into the match point.
Landfair made another solid offensive play that went off the fingertips of the oppositions side to secure the victory and push Maryland to an abysmal start to the season.
“We had a window there in the first set, but then the second and third set [Minnesota] made too many long runs to make it out of reach,” Hughes said.
Three things to know
1. Maryland came out with a different energy in this one. The Terps looked ready to compete from the first set. Maryland remained competitive in each set, much like their play last weekend against Ohio State, and even though the team couldn’t secure a victory this weekend, the confidence is continuing to build.
“We took the energy from the third set that we had yesterday and tried to bring it into the game today,” Lewis said. “That energy had us playing like we’ve never played before.”
2. The Gophers’s poise on defense was the game changer. Head coach Hugh McCutcheon must be restricting his players to a Wheaties-only diet because his team always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Minnesota rotated to perfection on Saturday and made life for Maryland’s offense a nightmare in this one.
3. Rebekah Rath’s played a key role. The sophomore came into this season looking to build off a 266 kill freshman year and cement herself as the team’s leader on the offensive side alongside Erika Pritchard. In Saturday’s matchup, Rath did just that by compiling 13 kills, a season-high. Her play has been one of the few bright spots in Maryland’s season thus far and she will look towards next weekend’s series against Nebraska to truly make a name for herself in the Big Ten.