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Maryland volleyball unable to pull off sweep, falls to Michigan, 3-2

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The Terps took the Wolverines to five sets, but were unable to come away with the weekend sweep.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland volleyball struggled to gain much traction in a fourth set that had its back against the wall with the match hanging in the balance. But the Terps suddenly found some life late, to take a slim advantage heading into match point.

Off of the Michigan serve, Cara Lewis snuck her fist under the ball following a dead dig attempt by Sam Burgio. The Wolverine sideline immediately called for a violation, but Lewis kept on playing. The ensuing kill attempt from Michigan was stuffed at the net by the sophomore, allowing Maryland to extend the match.

This was the case for much of the weekend, as Maryland’s blocking efforts proved to be too much for Michigan to work around. But, despite the continued blocking exhibition, the Terps couldn’t outdo the Wolverines to capture the sweep, falling in five sets (17-25, 29-27, 20-25, 25-23, 10-15) Saturday night.

“We’re trying to find ways to win tough sets, but I did think Michigan went out and was able to take care of business,” head coach Adam Hughes said. “They won a match — I’m not necessarily sure we lost a match.”

Friday night, Maryland was statistically outmatched on the offensive end. Their -23 disparity in kills (41-64) was tied for largest margin in kills on the season for the Terps. While the offense lumbered to a .175 hitting percentage, the defense stepped up for the Terps to hand them their first win of the season.

That theme of intense defense carried over into Saturday’s rematch, which featured both teams donning masks on the court as the Michigan coaching duo of Mark and Leisa Rosen continued their absence due to health and safety protocols.

Hughes said there was a positive test within the Michigan program and after contact tracing was orchestrated, both team’s mutually agreed to wear masks out of abundance of caution.

“Playing with masks, I think we are comfortable because we practice in masks all the time,” Erika Pritchard said. “We just have to be overly communicative ... it didn’t really faze us too much.”

Maryland’s first four points on the night were due to serving errors by Michigan, which plagued the Wolverines on Friday to the tune of 22, an average of 4.4 per set. Rebekah Rath and Jones were able to put Maryland’s offense on the board with a kill apiece to tie the first set at six.

Jones and Rath added another kill each as the set approached the midway point, but it was all Michigan in the early going as the home team led 14-9 heading into Maryland’s first timeout.

Maryland continued its overall struggles in the first set, ceding six straight points as a part of a massive 11-3 run by Michigan. But out of Maryland’s second timeout, Pritchard answered with a windup that ricocheted off of Michigan’s wall at the net and caromed out of bounds.

The Terps began to mount a mini-comeback — much like they have throughout this season — aided by their first block in the match via Lewis and Nicole Alford to cut the deficit to five. However, the Wolverines continued to get the Terps out of system, eventually leading to a comfortable first set victory, 25-17.

After putting together an absurd 18 blocks in Friday’s match, Maryland started off relatively slow in that department on Saturday. It wasn’t until back-to-back blocks from Rath and Lewis extended Maryland’s lead to 11-7 in the second set.

Nicole Alford continued the block party with a free ball solo block at the net against Kayla Bair, but a few miscommunications by the Terps helped Michigan creep back into the match, trailing 17-14.

Michigan continued to inch closer to the Terps throughout the set, and with a Laila Ricks attacking error, the Wolverines were given a match point opportunity. But of course, Maryland’s blocking showed up when it mattered most, as Jones staved off Michigan’s attempt at taking a 2-0 lead in the match.

After a service error from Michigan’s May Pertofsky, Maryland had another chance to finally capture the set after three straight set point opportunities were stifled by Michigan’s offense. Pritchard and Lewis took the initial reception and imposed their dominance, denying Wolverine Jess Robinson’s wind up at the net and ending the marathon by the score of 29-27.

Jostling for the advantage in the match, the third set was very similar to Friday’s, as multiple ties and lead changes ensued. Michigan seemed to maintain the upper hand, but Maryland wouldn’t go away.

Jones had two kills to go along with another block that exploded straight down into the hardwood, cutting the deficit to one. But the Terps continually gave up two points to their one, allowing Michigan to take a 16-11 lead.

Maryland never gained any momentum until it was too late. Despite a solid .385 hitting percentage and a three point spurt ignited by a Pritchard block, Maryland’s 12th on the evening, Michigan was able to handle the Terps, 25-20, in the third.

The two teams went back and forth early in the fourth set, until a spark plug from Sam Csire saw the freshman piece together two kills and a block to keep the Terps in the thick of it.

Robinson turned up the heat for the Wolverines with three straight kills to increase Michigan’s hold on the lead to two, but Csire responded once again with a floating kill thanks to a diving effort on the dig by Burgio and Alford.

A Pritchard kill and an ace from Lexy Finnerty gave Maryland its first lead since early in the set when it was 2-1, but the Big Ten foes continued to battle until the Terps’ ferocious blocking won them the set to extend the match to five.

Maryland started quick in the decisive fifth set, jumping out to a 3-0 lead thanks to a kill and solo block from Lewis, marking a career-high of 10 blocks for the sophomore.

After leading 5-2, the Terps allowed Robinson to compile three kills as a part of a 6-1 run from their opponent. A sluggish emergence from a Hughes timeout forced the third-year head coach to spend his final timeout as Maryland trailed 10-7.

Maryland still had no answer to Michigan’s massive run and despite a trio of kills from Csire, Burgio and Pritchard, the Wolverines closed out the Terps 15-10, ironically on a solo block.

“We’d like to try and win more five gamers,” Hughes said after the match. “It works both ways. You can’t overestimate, you can’t take too much confidence from it. We didn’t get the win, but at the same time, perspective is that I think we got a pretty good team here.”

Three things to know

1. Maryland played well at the net once again. Michigan’s assistant coach Jerome Fraisse had to make adjustments to his offensive game plan to try and avoid Maryland’s blockers after being denied at the net 18 times on Friday. Nonetheless, the block party continued and Michigan’s outside hitters struggled to avoid the walls Maryland was building once again, with the Terps getting 19 in the second matchup.

Lewis led the way with a career-high 10 blocks for the Terrapins, while Jones, who had 11 on Friday, added to her weekend total with six tonight. A total of 38 on the weekend showed why Maryland is top-two in the Big Ten in that department.

2. Coach Hughes continued to utilize his bench. More and more as the season has progressed, we have seen coach Hughes look to his bench for sparks. On Friday, Lexy Finnerty came in and provided crucial serving in the fifth set, ultimately leading to a victory. Saturday saw Laila Ricks shine, playing in all four sets to the tune of 5 points, while Sam Csire had her breakout game, playing a huge role in Maryland’s fourth set to the tune of a block and three kills.

“The whole team just made us feel comfortable and really confident,” Ricks said. “[This weekend] allowed us to be mentally tough.”

3. Maryland’s offensive woes continued as Michigan’s improved. Once again, the downfall for the Terrapins was the mismatch on offense, as the team collected a subpar .175 hitting percentage just like they had last night. Pritchard dazzled with a .304 hitting percentage, but the rest of the team struggled attacking the Wolverines. The difference in the split series this weekend was Michigan’s equally dismal .199 hitting percentage in their loss on Friday, compared to a much improved .226 on Saturday.