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Maryland volleyball collapses in set four, falls to Rutgers, 3-1

The Terps had an up and down evening against the Scarlet Knights, capped off by a collapse in the decisive fourth set.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

The Xfinity Center Pavilion erupted after an amazing sequence by the Maryland volleyball team concluded a stellar 13-6 start to the fourth set. Down 2-1 in the match, the Terps needed to maintain that energy and carry their lead into a decisive fifth set.

To the dismay of the Terrapin faithful, that energy boost did not persist. Rutgers climbed back into the set and a 3-0 run that saw two attacks by the Terrapins fall out of bounds sealed the home team’s fate.

Off the heels of a three-game win streak, Maryland now finds itself back into a losing slump, capping off a three-game losing streak in a 3-1 loss to Rutgers (16-25, 25-16, 17-25, 22-25).

“At times you can see what we can be and at times you can see what we are,” head coach Adam Hughes said. “We have to try and figure that out as we wrap up the rest of the season.”

Maryland was at the cusp of victory against Illinois last Saturday after dropping the series opener, only for the momentum they built in a dominant 25-12 victory in the second set to be shut down en route to a five-set defeat.

The Terps aimed to get back into the win column against Rutgers and looked to have all the kinks sorted out early in the first set.

Phenomenal rotations on defense helped in both the serve receive and play at the net, with two of Maryland’s first three points being blocks. However, two attacking errors from the home team allowed Rutgers to tie the match at three apiece.

A 5-0 run by the Scarlet Knights put Maryland’s proficient start in the rear-view, as the defensive prowess of the Terps continued to fall by the wayside. Rutgers collected nine kills to take a 15-10 edge, causing coach Hughes to take a timeout.

Middle blocker Laila Ricks was there for the thunderous response out of the intermission, firing a kill at blistering speed into the center gap. The furious shot couldn’t boost the Terps this time, as another kill from Maksimova followed by an attacking error from outside hitter Erika Pritchard, her third, led to another Maryland timeout as they trailed 12-18.

Maryland tried to answer once again, but as they took a step forward, they simultaneously took two steps backward all thanks to the continuous issue with errors, accumulating nine such in the 25-16 opening set loss.

The opening points of the second set belonged to the Terrapins once again, with a trio of kills supplied by Pritchard, Ricks and outside hitter Sam Csire. This time around, the Terps were the aggressors in this piecing together the run this time.

Three straight kills — all off of serves from defensive specialist Lexy Finnerty — drove home a 4-0 run to break the 6-6 tie for the Terps. A Csire kill and service ace from setter Sydney Dowler then extended Maryland’s lead to four, forcing Rutgers to spend its first timeout of the night.

The margin remained much of the same throughout the middle of the second set, with Pritchard leading the way with five kills in the set. Up 20-16, Ricks fired another missile into the Scarlet Knight defense, forcing Rutgers to its breaking point.

The Terps scored a huge second set victory by way of a .379 hitting percentage after shooting -0.073 in the first set. The rebound by the Terps helped set up a critical third set in College Park.

In matches past, the offense has seen its drastic share of ebbs and flows. The first two sets couldn’t have been a better example, as a negative hitting percentage was followed by Maryland’s highest percentage in a set this season.

As such with ebbs and flows, however, Maryland found themselves on the wrong side of the wave in the third set, with Rutgers jumping out to a 4-0 lead. Back-to-back aces from Sam Burgio helped cut the deficit to just one, but the Scarlet Knights remained in the driver’s seat as the set prolonged.

Down 15-9, a timely media timeout looked to swing the momentum in favor of the Terps. Middle blocker Rainelle Jones, Csire and Dowler supplied the offense for Maryland, with an ace by setter Nicole Alford finishing off a 4-0 run and cutting the score to 15-13.

Rutgers kept on chugging along, but a massive block by middle blocker Cara Lewis blew the roof off of the Xfinity Center Pavilion, signaling a possible turning of the tables. Despite this raucous play by Lewis, the Scarlet Knights remained poised down the stretch, securing a 25-17 victory.

Lewis rode her momentum into the fourth set, combining with Ricks for the opening point block before a punishing kill of her own helped Maryland take an early 4-0 lead.

Following Dowler’s set deke to give the Terrapins an 8-5 advantage, an unbelievable sequence that included an all-out diving dig from outside hitter Hailey Rubino and a painful-looking attack into the opposing libero’s face was concluded by a kill from Pritchard.

With Rubino and Burgio wreaking havoc on the backline, making layout after layout in order to keep the game going, all the energy shifted to the Terps’ side as they found some life and were leading 13-10.

“I think that’s what we’re out there to do is to bring energy,” Burgio said. “As back row players, that’s where we’re able to shine.”

Rutgers was quick to respond, however, tying the match at 17 all thanks to some crucial blocking. Sensing a tight finish to the set, Maryland clenched up its defense to try and stave off the Rutgers comeback.

Tied at 22, while the defense stood their ground, two attacking errors by the Terps finished off the disappointing fourth set collapse, sending the Terps to a 4-13 record.

Three things to know

1. How much longer can blocks be Maryland’s fallback? As expected, Maryland controlled the blocking statistic, sticking with its 2.98 per set average on the year with a total of 12. As much as blocks have been the catalyst for the Terps’ success this season, it has translated to a lackluster 4-13 record. With no Big Ten Tournament, Maryland’s chances to improve in other categories are slowly waning.

2. There were wild ebbs and flows between sets. After a 3-0 start to the first set, things got out of hand for the Terps, with Rutgers quickly climbing to a 10-6 advantage and taking the first set, 25-16. Maryland was able to bounce back by winning set two 25-16 but set three relieved more of the same struggles to compete with the Scarlet Knights winning 25-17.

The Terps had the chance to take set four, winning by as many as seven points, but managed to let the Scarlet Knights take over and win the set, 25-22.

“It really starts with what we’re doing in practice and how we show up every single day,” Dowler said. “We got to show up with some intensity, some competitiveness and we got to work just as hard in practice as we do in games.”

3. Jada Gardner was out with a non-COVID-related injury. Since returning from COVID-19 protocols in early March, Gardner has seen action in every set as she has transitioned into a key cog in Hughes’ rotation off the bench. Ahead of Wednesday’s action, however, Gardner was not seen on the sideline for the Terps, a scene reminiscent of the team’s surprise COVID absences against Indiana.

A team spokesperson confirmed that Gardner’s absence was not COVID-19 related and that her injury would leave her day-to-day. In the postgame press conference, coach Hughes expressed his doubts in the junior’s availability this week.

“I don’t think she’ll be making the trip this weekend,” Hughes said.