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Maryland volleyball continues to show improvement, defeats Iowa in straight sets

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The Terps used several strong runs to sweep the Hawkeyes.

Photo by @TerpsVolleyball

Ahead 17-13 over Iowa in the second set, Maryland volleyball was in the midst of another fantastic late run. Sensing the set was getting away from them, Hawkeye Amiya Jones attempted a finesse kill into the gap, only for setter Nicole Alford to lunge for the successful dig.

After extending the point, Maryland denied Iowa at the net twice before middle blocker Cara Lewis finally sent a third Iowa attack back into open space to secure the point.

An Iowa timeout couldn’t halt the Terps’ momentum, as the home team continued to rally en route to a massive 10-3 run to end the set and eventually take the match in straight sets (25-21, 25-16, 25-20).

“As we grow with our trust and our communication, we’re able to do so much better, and I feel like that’s what really shined this weekend,” Sam Burgio said. “We controlled our own emotions instead of getting caught up in whatever the other side was doing.”

The Terps were substantially better than the Hawkeyes in all facets of the game, but most jarring was the hit percentage disparity. Maryland compiled a season-high .357 hitting percentage compared to Iowa’s .152.

Outside hitter Erika Pritchard shined in the early going, priming up two thunderous kills into the open seams, but much like the first set on Friday, neither team could break off and run with it as the score sat at 8 apiece.

A mini-spurt was started by an unreal kill by middle blocker Laila Ricks as she reached way back and fired the ball into the opposing libero at lightning speed. Ricks continued punishing the Hawkeyes defense, collecting her second kill to tie the match at 12.

The Terps began to gain some separation, with middle blocker Rainelle Jones finalizing a 4-0 run and forcing Iowa to spend its first timeout. Out of the timeout, Jones kept it coming with her second kill of the set followed by a block pairing with middle blocker Jada Gardner.

Iowa converted on a pair of two score runs in an effort to try and flip the switch. Nevertheless, Ricks once again rifled a kill to the backside to set up match point, eventually leading to an opening set victory for the Terps, 25-21.

An errant ace reception initiated a 3-0 hole for the Terrapins in the opening moments of the second set. From there, Maryland started to attack at all corners with Pritchard inching the score closer with two kills, which was followed by a kill from Gardner on the opposite side.

After Hannah Clayton gave Iowa a 9-8 lead, the Terps responded with a 3-0 run of their own spearheaded by back-to-back blocks from Lewis. The Hawkeyes, however, weren’t phased and kept themselves in the set.

Up 15-13, Jones and Gardner combined for another impressive block, setting the stage for another Maryland run.

The Terps used strong offense and even better blocking at the net to finalize a statement victory in the second set, 25-16. As a part of the 10-3 run to end the set, Lewis had two solo blocks to go along with her team-high eight, while outside hitter Sam Csire chipped in two kills, including the match point set-up.

The third set mirrored the two others — two teams battling for some form of a momentum swing in a heavily contested start. Iowa also replicated its regrouping in the locker room following the second set as they did on Friday, but this time the Terps had an answer.

Lewis was at it again in providing the Terps with a spark thanks to her blocking prowess. She combined with Csire to make it 9-6 before joining Ricks to make it 12-7, forcing Iowa into a timeout as a part of a 7-1 run.

The sophomore continued her dominant third set, firing in two kills off of assists from setter Sydney Dowler to extend the Terps’ advantage to five points.

Maryland ceded a 4-0 run to the Hawkeyes mid-set due to a pair of attacking errors and a bad set from Ricks, but another block by Lewis signaled the beginning of the end of the match.

Yet another run from the Terrapins finished out the match as Maryland completed the weekend sweep of Iowa and won in straight sets for the first time all season.

“This was our best performance of the year and I thought it was a complete game from the entire team,” head coach Adam Hughes said. “I’m not sure it’s a stepping stone win, but I think it shows the potential that this group still has.”

Three things to know

1. The Terps are playing their best volleyball of the season. For most, a COVID-19 issue could destroy a team’s progress in an already shortened season. But for Maryland, that conflict segued into the team’s best stretch of the season.

The break in action against Penn State was riddled with question marks, until the Terps took to court against Indiana down two of its starters. With opportunities open, the trio of freshmen took center stage as they broke out of their shells and embraced their roles. Now, with a fully-healthy Terrapin squad, littered with both seasoned vets and promising youngsters, the Terps have rattled off three consecutive victories and have really started to hit their stride. Up next, Maryland will travel to Champaign, Illinois to take on the Fighting Illini next weekend.

2. The tempo was all Maryland’s. Early in the three sets played today, Maryland failed to gain any separation from a pesky Iowa front. But the Terps were able to churn out the sweep thanks to timely momentum swings and crucial runs. Credit can be taken by the improved chemistry of this lineup and the tempo they dictated. Iowa had many chances to break away from the Terps, but consistency on both ends aided Maryland’s tremendous effort today.

“I think the past couple weeks we’ve really bonded as a team,” Pritchard said. “We’ve started to trust each other and play for each other more and it’s only going to get better from here.”

3. Maryland continues to flex its depth. Ten Terps touched the court on Saturday, with each playing a crucial role in the team’s fantastic performance. The aforementioned stars of the game were heavily supported by the glue girls. Alford and Dowler had 14 and 16 assists, respectively, while Lexy Finnerty set up the Terps nicely with stellar serving. Burgio, in her second game back from COVID protocols, led the team with 10 digs, while her fellow returnee Gardner came off the bench to collect five kills on 12 attempts.

“One of the things we try to do is just make sure we’re rotating a lot of people around in practice,” Hughes said. “We don’t do a true A vs. B (starters vs. non-starters) ... I think it helps with versatility.”