Head coach Adam Hughes and company knew what they were getting into at the beginning his peculiar spring volleyball season; their schedule was anything but easy.
The Terps played two of the top teams in the country in their first three series, unable to secure a victory in either. Add that to their two five-set losses to Ohio State in the opening weekend and Maryland sat at 0-6 in a nightmarish start to the season.
Returning to College Park, Maryland seemed destined to get into the win column against a lowly Michigan State team that had struggled on both sides to start their season. However, an uninspiring performance on Friday segued into another four set loss on Saturday (25-27, 25-19, 23-25, 22-25), pushing the Terps to 0-8 on the season as the worst start in program history continued to unfold.
“We didn’t execute in clutch situations and that’s gonna be the difference in deuce games,” Hughes said. “It’s gonna come down to who makes a play and I thought they made just a few more than we did.”
Erika Pritchard got things rolling early for the Terps with two kills for Maryland’s first two points. Jada Gardner then got it going with a service ace that barely rolled over the top of the net to extend Maryland’s lead to 5-3.
Maryland showed more fight in the first set compared to yesterday, further proven by the toughness of Hailey Rubino. The senior took a dive into her bench area to try and save a play, and although a little banged up, Rubino shook it off and returned without missing a point.
The will to win was there, but even that hustle couldn’t prevent the Spartans from a mega run. Two attacking errors by the Terps and two service aces from Sarah Franklin set up Michigan State for a 7-0 run to give it a 10-5 lead.
Maryland emerged from the shadows following Hughes’ second timeout of the game, with Pritchard leading the way. The senior captain managed to four kills as a part of a set-altering 9-2 run for the Terps. Pritchard was able to attack with ferocity thanks to terrific setting by freshman Sydney Dowler, who saw her first action of the season.
Nicole Alford was able to tie the set at 20 thanks to a beautiful fake set that found the empty right corner of Michigan State’s side. Gardner followed Alford’s finesse play with a more ferocious attack, firing a kill similar to a majority of her career-high 20 kills the evening prior.
The Terps once again came out with a solid start in the second set. Gardner fired off a pair of kills and Sam Burgio had a service ace — Maryland’s third of the night — to take an early 5-1 lead.
Later in the match, Rebekah Rath produced an ace into the pocket of Michigan State’s defense to make the score 16-9. After a kill from Erika Pritchard, Rath again was able to score off of the serve as she continued to guide the Terps on a 7-0 run.
“Yesterday we were really disappointed, not just because we lost, but because of our performance as a team,” Alford said. “I think today we came in more aggressive and more confident, and I think that showed in how we played.”
No team was able to grab the advantage early in third set until a five point run by the Spartans made the score 11-6. Maryland took a little while to get going, but a Hughes timeout allowed the team to recapture the tempo of the game and climb back into the set. Pritchard led the way during Maryland’s 6-4 run, racking up three kills to cut the score to 15-13.
As the set began to swing in the Spartans direction, Maryland wouldn’t let them gain some considerable spacing. A big time kill from Pritchard was denied by Molly Johnson and Rebecka Poljan, but the next play set up Pritchard with her retaliation attempt, cutting the deficit to four.
A 4-0 run by the Terps made it a 22-21 game, but a service error from Dowler plus an ace via Franklin pushed Maryland to the brink of defeat in the set. Maryland responded with their own pair of serve-related points, with Franklin committing a service error and Pritchard dishing out an ace
The close sets were somewhat of a facade throughout the night as Maryland never truly got in a self-produced scoring rhythm. Nearly half of the Terps’ points came through Michigan State errors in yet another disappointing performance for Hughes’ squad.
Three things to know
1. Maryland staved off insurmountable deficits. The story for Maryland thus far this season has been early holes and late runs that come up short. That looked to be an afterthought on Saturday as the Terps kept their composure and dictated the tempo more often than past games.
“We started a little bit more on time than we did the last game so I think that’s something we can work on,” Alford said.
A blip in their performance came due to a 9-0 run by Michigan State, but from then on, Maryland remained composed, especially in the second set as the team compiled a .462 hitting percentage, the highest in a single set all season. No matter the deficit on Saturday, Maryland didn’t seem to be dead in the water.
2. The aces came rolling in. Among the major statistical struggles for the Terps in 2021 has been service aces. Prior to Saturday’s match, Maryland had only produced a 1.11 ace per set average, good for 11th in the Big Ten. Something came of the Maryland serving effort, however Saturday night, as it pieced together 10 in the contest, including four in their only victory in the second set. Gardner and Rath led the way for the Terrapins with three apiece.
3. The Terps held the dig advantage. Coming into the weekend, Michigan State was the worst defensive team in the Big Ten. Maryland made sure to claim that spot after a lifeless performance in the opening leg of its series against the Spartans. Defense was the main detriment for the Terps on Friday, but on Saturday, Maryland far surpassed Michigan State in terms of digs. Maryland nearly doubled Michigan State’s total of 26 with 50 of their own, which kept the Terps from sinking as they did in the first match.