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Maryland volleyball picks up first win of season, takes down Michigan in five sets, 3-2

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The Terps have found a string of luck in Ann Arbor.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

After jumping out to the worst start in program history, Maryland volleyball finally has something to celebrate.

Throughout the season, the Terps struggled to make essential plays in the moments it mattered most, but that wasn’t the case against Michigan Friday night.

With the score at 14-12 in the fifth set, senior outside hitter Erika Pritchard winded up for the game-winning kill, getting just enough heat on the ball to push the attack off of the fingertips of Wolverines Kayla Bair and May Pertofsky. A mad scramble for the ball ultimately fell to the floor, granting the Terps a much needed first victory of the season (21-25, 25-23, 25-22, 25-18, 15-12).

With the win over the 26th ranked team in the country, head coach Adam Hughes’ squad moves to 1-8 on the season and can take a sigh of relief after four frustrating weekends to start Big Ten play.

“[It was] a good resilient team fight and I think that will probably be the big standout,” Hughes said. “We got a lot of positive play from some of our subs off the bench and obviously happy to get a win.”

The Terps were competitive in the early going, playing solid defense and coupling in a pair of impressive kills from Erika Pritchard and Cara Lewis. A block from Rainelle Jones and Nicole Alford knotted the score up at five, but self-inflicted play boosted the Wolverines in the ensuing run.

Maryland’s defense held up in the early part of the set, but three-straight kills from Michigan eventually put the team in a 13-9 hole. A Jada Gardner kill followed, but the Terps’ offensive woes continued as the defense proceeded to crumble as well.

Maryland tried to piece together some runs on offense, but the Terps attack struggled to find the corners and had to rely on back-to-back blocks from Jones to cut the score to 20-15. This kickstarted a massive 8-0 run to cut the Michigan lead to one point.

Sensing the momentum shift, Michigan was able to recapture a multi-point lead at 23-19. After a kill from Gardner to make it 23-20, a layup for the junior was there for the taking, only her eyes were bigger than her stomach. Gardner’s attacking error set up match point for Michigan, eventually sealing a 25-21 first set victory for the Wolverines.

A serving error from Hailey Rubino to start the second set seemed to forecast a difficult set from the Terps, but an all-around early showing from Pritchard, which included two kills and an ace, kept the set tied at seven apiece.

Twelve ties and multiple lead changes resulted in a 14-14 tie, but three consecutive kills from Michigan finally broke a back and forth set. Two more blocks from the Terps pushed the team total to nine and a Gardner kill into the back left corner tied the match once again at 18.

Capping off a 5-0 run was Rath, whose fourth kill gave Maryland a 19-18 lead. However, the ties and lead changes continued following her score.

After being locked in 17 ties with Michigan in the second set, Hughes made a huge move in subbing out his starting setter Nicole Alford for freshman Laila Ricks with Maryland volleyball holding onto a 23-22 lead.

The decision was aimed at adding extra height at the net for a critical point, and it proved to be the difference maker in the set. Ricks combined with Cara Lewis for a monumental block to set up match point for the Terrapins, ultimately securing the set on an attacking error, 25-23.

“I think [Laila’s] got a super bright future and when I think about the COVID season, this is a free year for her,” Hughes said. “I’m glad she’s making the most of it and this won’t be the last time we’ll call on her.”

Maryland had one of its best blocking performance of the season, securing 17 in the match to tie its season high, which played a crucial role in the victory.

Looking to carry the momentum into the third set, the Terps put together a 9-1 run thanks to a combination of Michigan mistakes, kills from Pritchard and a pair of service aces.

After jumping out to a 10-4 lead, Maryland gave up its hot start to let the Wolverines creep back into the set due to a four score run. Maryland continued to bypass Michigan’s kill attempts and allowed the Wolverines to tie the set at 12.

From there, miscommunication on the visitors side led to Maryland squandering its lead, forcing coach Hughes into a timeout as his team suddenly found themselves in a 14-12 hole.

After a 4-0 run bookended by a Pritchard kill, the Terps found themselves in the drivers seat once again up 18-16. The Terps continued their furious finish to the set as Jones was able to provide the set sealer on a hammering kill into Michigan’s backline, granting Maryland a 2-1 set advantage.

The story remained the same in the fourth set, as neither team could gain the upper hand with another onslaught of ties and lead changes in the early going. It wasn’t until a five point run by the Wolverines opened up the scoring, leading to to a timeout by the Terps trailing 12-8.

Michigan began to figure out Maryland’s blocking techniques, extending their lead to 16-10 as Hughes spent another timeout to talk things over. The intermissions weren’t enough the help get the Terps back into the set, however, as Michigan continued to pour it on en route to a 25-18.

Three amazing digs from Sam Burgio in the first two points set the tone in the early going of the decisive fifth set, with Maryland taking a 3-2 lead off of another impressive block from Lewis and Ricks. However, a four score run by Michigan inched the home team closer to a fifth set victory.

Like a flash of lightning, the Terps found new life as they embarked on a 6-0 run, which was capped off by consecutive attacking errors from Michigan’s Paige Jones.

“Just execution really, that’s a big word on our team: execution and mental toughness,” Alford said.

With the score at 10-8, Maryland continued to hold off the Wolverines as they approached match point in the set. Pritchard’s kill off an assist from Nicole Alford sealed the match, putting an end to Maryland’s winless record.

“Our record doesn’t reflect our talent,” Alford said. “It was really good to finally get a win and get that boost of confidence ... it shows what we can do in the future.”

Three things to know

1. Let’s talk about that second set. Scrappy. That’s one word that can be used to describe Maryland’s efforts in the second set. Arguably the team’s best set of the season, there was no one true standout in this one. From the attack, to the serving and especially the defense at the net, Maryland executed a tremendous team effort to earn a 25-23 victory.

“We did a really good job with the scouting report and knowing what they do,” Jones said. “Just executing that and doing what we can do best.”

2. The block advantage was evident. Maryland easily outmatched Michigan in the blocking department in this matchup, which helped the Terps hold the Michigan offense in check for much of the night. Maryland avoided runs from the Wolverines thanks to solid production on the serves, forcing Michigan setters into difficult shots for their outside hitters and thus allowing Maryland’s front line to handle blocking duties.

3. Michigan was without the Rosens. Due to contact tracing and COVID-19 guidelines and safety precautions, head coach Mark Rosen and associate head coach Leisa Rosen were forced to miss this matchup and likely will have to watch Saturday’s rematch from home as well. In their absence, assistant coach Jerome Fraisse took over for the Wolverines, which may have been a factor in Michigan’s struggles in this one.