Down two sets, Maryland volleyball entered the final frame of its rematch with No. 4 Nebraska with hopes of extending the match to avoid the sweep.
However, on the very first play, the Terps’ backline couldn’t corral the ball off a ferocious kill from Cornhusker Kayla Caffe.
The team had struggled on the receiving end throughout Saturday night’s match, and it carried right over into the third set, resulting in yet another loss for Maryland (14-25, 21-25, 18-25).
“I didn’t think we played our best tonight,” head coach Adam Hughes said. “That’s gonna be a difficult challenge when playing a top five team at home ... you gotta give credit where credit is due.”
The Terps were overpowered by a dominant Nebraska offense in the defeat, with their opponent posting a season-best .337 hitting percentage. Maryland ended with just 26 kills compared to 49 from the Nebraska.
“We’re just gonna get back in the gym and rep it out,” senior libero Sam Burgio said. “Really focus on communication in the seams and get better from there.”
Maryland faced an early 8-5 deficit in the first set after Nebraska came out firing with three consecutive kills, quickly followed up by three kills from Cornhusker outside hitter Madi Kubik.
Two blocks from Kayla Caffey extended the Husker lead to 14-8, but the never-say-die Terrapins continued to claw their way back into the set.
Though Maryland couldn’t string together a significant run, outside hitter Erika Pritchard put the team back within reach with two kills. Following Maryland’s first timeout of the set, Pritchard responded again with a massive kill to cut the deficit to five, but a poor reception error from Cara Lewis prompted coach Hughes to call a second timeout.
From then on, Nebraska continued pummeling kill attempts into the backline, with Maryland struggling mightily on their receive attempts. The Cornhuskers finished off the Terps, 25-14, via a serving error from freshman Laila Ricks in what was a lifeless first set from the Terrapins.
Rainelle Jones was able to put the Terps on the board quickly into the second set with an assist from Nicole Alford. Pritchard then added to the strong start with a block on Zuhn, followed by two punishing kills, bringing her total to six.
Maryland’s lead extended to 10-8 lead thanks a block from the brick wall of Jones and Jada Gardner on the front line, but Nebraska pieced together a 4-1 run to regain some momentum from there.
As the teams continued to trade scores, Kubik made the highlight play of the set to that point. After meeting the Terps frontline at the net, she recovered for the dig. Having the presence of mind to return to the play, Kubik ran back to the 10-foot line, made a quick turn, and delivered a floating kill. The sophomore followed up her play with a service ace to give Nebraska a 15-14 lead.
The Terps didn’t let the strong effort from Kubik get them out of rhythm, however, as Rath and Jones delivered two kills of their own before Pritchard pierced her seventh of the night to give Maryland back the lead, 18-17. But two errors from the Terps — a service error from Burgio and an attacking error via Pritchard — gave way to the Huskers to take advantage of the back-and-forth second set.
Down 22-20 with the set within reach, Lewis and Rath rose up in unison in hopes of blocking the attack from Nebraska. The duo just nearly missed, however, with the ball barely skimming past the shoulders of an opposing Cornhusker. Hughes challenged the close call, but the play review wasn’t successful and the Terps went on to lose the set.
The third set saw much of the same, with the Terps’ attempts to build momentum being thwarted. A massive 8-0 Nebraska run was only ended by an attacking error, and by that point the Terps were already in a 16-6 hole.
Maryland tried to stave off the Huskers from capturing the third with ease, with Alford firing a kill into the defense and Hailey Rubino coming in for a solid ace to cut the deficit to seven. Capitalizing on two errors from Nebraska following another kill from Alford, head coach John Cook was forced to call a timeout with his team’s lead dwindling down to 23-18.
The deficit was too much for the Terps to mount a considerable comeback, however, forcing the team to an 0-6 start.
“This wasn’t our best night, it wasn’t our best showing,” Alford said. “We’re disappointed, but we’re really hungry to get better.”
Three things to know
1. Maryland struggled to put together any runs. While Nebraska capitalized on mistakes and dominated the scoreboard, the Terps were unable to consistently fight back as they had done on Friday. Maryland managed to put together just three three-point runs Saturday, with two of them coming with its backs against the wall in the third and final set. Instead of putting together a strong fight, Saturday night involved the Terps scrambling to stay afloat.
“I felt like we were always playing from behind,” Hughes said. “They did a good job putting some pressure on us ... we were always out of system.”
2. Erika Pritchard gave Maryland the bursts they needed. Despite coming up short in three sets, there were times where Pritchard was able to grant Maryland some momentum in an otherwise lopsided contest. The first set saw the senior put the Terps on her back with four kills, which was followed by another three in the second set. She finished with 10 kills on 29 attempts, a poor hitting percentage because of Nebraska’s resiliency on defense, but a promising sign of Pritchard’s relentless attitude on the offense.
3. The Terps sit at 0-6. Maryland wrapped up its most difficult stretch of this season against the Cornhuskers. A straight set loss on Saturday came after a valiant 3-1 loss the night prior. The week’s earlier matchup against Top-10 Minnesota was a tough mountain to climb and the week prior to that saw the Terps battle hard, but drop both five set showdowns against Ohio State. Maryland’s matchups have been competitive, but the fact of the matter is the Terps are 0-6. It’s a brutal look, but things figure to get better from here. Maryland’s schedule will come back down to earth eventually and coach Hughes can look to get his team on a roll from then on.