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Behind its offense, Maryland volleyball found its groove, defeating Iowa, 3-1

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The Xfinity Center Pavilion welcomed fans for the first time this season, ushering a new level of energy for the Terps.

Photo by @TerpsVolleyball

Up 23-17 in the second set, Maryland volley looked to close out an utterly dominant performance. An Iowa serve was dug, set and delivered in a matter of seconds by a feisty Maryland offense.

Middle blocker Rainelle Jones was the trigger woman. On her 21st birthday in front of not just her family donning cutouts, but a flurry of Maryland faithfuls, the junior swatted Maryland’s 15th kill of the set into dead space on Iowa’s side.

That kill emphatically buried the Hawkeyes, as an attacking error from Amiya Jones officially sealed the tremendous offensive output by the Terps in the second set.

The offense was a driving force for the Terrapins in their 3-1 victory (26-24, 25-17, 24-26, 25-23) over Iowa Friday night. Maryland had a season best .285 hitting percentage to earn its second consecutive win, doing so for the first time this year.

“I’m happy we were able to execute when we needed it most,” head coach Adam Hughes said. “I thought we kind of stepped up able to go get a win.”

It was a completely different vibe at Xfinity Center Pavilion as the Terps welcomed a home crowd for the first time this season. “This was the first sporting event that I’ve been to since everything shut down, so it feels good to finally back into that environment,” Jones’s cousin, 22-year-old Jasmine Anderson said.

A back-and-forth battle defined the first half of the first set, with consecutive scores coming sparingly en route to a 13-13 deadlock.

A missile launched by middle blocker Laila Ricks was countered by the Hawkeyes, solidifying the struggles Maryland’s offense had in converting in the opening set — and throughout the entire season. The Terps had a .053 hitting percentage compared to Iowa’s .250, enough separation that proved problematic for the home team.

Coach Hughes took a timeout to help his unit regroup, but another challenge by the Terps couldn’t successfully stifle the Hawkeyes’ momentum, forcing Hughes into another timeout amid a 6-0 run by the visitors.

Outside hitter Sam Csire took it upon herself to vault the Terps back into the set, piecing together a kill and an ace out of the timeout to cut the deficit to three. A pair of attacking errors from Edina Schmidt before and after a punishing block by Jones cut the score to 21-19 as the set approached its finish.

Tied at 23, setter Sydney Dowler provided a crucial block with Jones by her side to set up match point, and despite a communication error locking the score back up, Dowler and Jones came up clutch again with another block to capture the set in comeback fashion.

The whole Jones fan club was rocking cutouts of the birthday girl and the new 21-year-old was ecstatic and highly motivated ahead of the match by seeing the support of her family.

“Just seeing them really drives me to push forward and remember what I’m fighting for and what my goals are,” Jones said.

Early in the second set, the Terps came out swinging, with Csire, Pritchard, Ricks, Jones and middle blocker Jada Gardner (who returned after a week off due to COVID protocols) providing kills for Maryland’s first six points. It was a far cry from their start in the first set, as Maryland held a 9-7 advantage on a .400 hit percentage.

Maryland’s aggressive approach in this set was aided by consistent rotations by Hughes. Fresh offensive pieces coming in and out led to a high output of kills in the set, and the opposing team’s mistakes didn’t define Maryland’s point total as it did in matches prior.

“I thought we had better offensive balance tonight,” Hughes said. “It comes down to if we can control the ball we got a lot of options to score, so we were just in control from the first touch.”

Led by a .500 hit percentage and an impressive .577 kill percentage, Maryland’s offense finally put it all together and dominated the second set en route to a 25-17 victory.

Iowa took a trip to the locker room during the intermission prior to the third set to try and revitalize a reeling Hawkeyes team that seemed to control the tempo of the match in the first set before Maryland’s comeback.

Maryland’s momentum seemed to persist into the third set, but Iowa held the early 6-4 advantage thanks to two aces from Schmidt. The Hawkeyes kept the pressure on as another pair of aces, this time via Amiya Jones, forced Maryland into spending a timeout.

The breather paid dividends for the Terps, as a 5-2 run forced the set into a 16-16 tie. Iowa countered with a 3-0 run to bring itself s back to a two-point lead, but a pivotal block by Pritchard and middle blocker Cara Lewis locked it up again at 18.

Maryland’s chance at closing out the set seemed bright with Lewis coming up with a thunderous block, but a 3-0 run by Iowa turned things around, eventually leading to a 26-24 victory from the Hawkeyes to extend the match.

The tides really shifted heading into the fourth set as Iowa jumped out to a 10-7 lead to silence the home crowd. That silence was shortlived, however, as a solo block from Ricks pushed the Terps ahead by one.

Pritchard gave the Terps some wiggle room with her 13th kill, but it was Csire who put Maryland in the driver’s seat with a trio of punishing kills.

Iowa continued to fight back into the set, but Maryland held on just enough to secure consecutive wins for the first time this season.

Three things to know

1. That second set was all gas no brakes. There was nothing stopping the Terps in that second set, which ended as a 25-17 win. A .500 hit percentage was the team’s highest in a set this season. Pritchard (5) led the way, while Csire and Jones each chipped in three in a one-sided second set. What really defined the set, however, was the energy exuded by the Terps side in correspondence with the crowd’s noise.

“At first it was a little weird seeing faces in the stands,’ Gardner said. “We were relying on each other so we have the confidence within ourselves and from our teammates and then the crowd to really push us through.”

2. Maryland held Iowa’s offense in check. Coach Hughes stressed how important it was to step up defensively against a Hawkeyes offense that had four to five capable scorers. On Friday, the Terps rose to the occasion by holding Iowa to just a .178 hitting percentage on the evening. While Iowa’s offense has been mediocre on the season thus far, Maryland needed to come out and give the Hawkeyes all they could on the defensive side in order to shore up a victory.

“Iowa did really well with spreading out their hitters and just keeping us on our toes,” Jones said. “Communicating throughout the entire game was really nice for us to complete that.”

3. Blocks were yet again a major victory for the Terps. Every week it seems the Terps get better and better in the block department. Not only has it become their identity this season, but it has become a dominant trait in this otherwise disappointing season overall. On Friday, the block margin was at an impressive +13 for the Terrapins and although that took a backseat to the offensive performance, it remained an integral part to the Terps’ success.