In the second set of Saturday’s rematch between Maryland volleyball and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, the Terps pieced together a 5-0 run that featured four beautifully placed kills.
Sam Csire had two in that span, while Laila Ricks and Cara Lewis supplied one each, hammering home some impressive strikes into the open gaps on Rutgers’ side. That offensive potential led to a second set statement win, but like so many instances over the course of this season, Maryland failed to carry that momentum into the next set.
Rutgers’ 17 kills compared to Maryland’s eight was a telltale sign of the Terps’ continuous struggles in building off of impressive offensive showings. After hitting .400 in the second set, they hit .156 in a brutal third set, eventually fumbling to another disappointing 3-1 loss (23-25, 25-22, 17-25, 25-15).
“We did well offensively for periods of time, but we didn’t get enough swings,” head coach Adam Hughes said. “I thought we had a chance to win in the first set, but we didn’t execute down the stretch and that kind of put us in a tough spot.”
After Maryland kicked things off with a pair of kills via Rainelle Jones and Lewis, Rutgers pieced together a 5-0 run. Maryland was in a hurry to respond, closing the deficit to one off of a service ace by Csire.
No traction was made by either side in a deadlock opening set, until Erika Pritchard delivered her patented rocket shot into the back corner. The senior followed that up with a block accompanied by Lewis, before Lexy Finnerty’s dig attempt registered a kill for the Terps, giving them a 9-8 advantage.
The Scarlet Knights made an effort to respond, but the Terps continued to take control of the scoring rather than letting opposing errors accumulate. Up 15-10, Maryland totaled nine kills on a .250 hitting percentage — not a whopping number, but surely a massive improvement from Wednesday’s disappointing loss.
Soon, an ace and kill by Kamila Cieslik gave Rutgers an unexpected lead after Maryland’s strong start. In typical Maryland fashion, however, they kept on fighting late in a close set, taking a 20-19 lead off of the block from Lewis, her third already.
Lewis continued to torment the Scarlet Knights, skying high for the lead-snatching kill. Rutgers was quick to respond, flashing its offensive potential with a pair of kills to retake the lead and forcing the Terps to regroup.
The timeout by Maryland couldn’t fix its dismantled attack, as a service error by Pritchard lined up set point, in which Rutgers converted on to take the first set.
Both teams came out swinging in the second set, but communication struggles by the Terps persisted as the home team jumped out to a 7-4 lead.
The discombobulated front on the Terrapins’ side continued to estrange any opportunities at making a run. That was until a 5-0 run, spearheaded by four kills, gave the Terps their first lead of the set.
The Terrapin block party then made an appearance, with Pritchard and Jones emphatically sending Beka Kojadinovic’s attack back into her teammates face, leading to a Rutgers timeout.
With the set approaching its finish, the two bottom-tier Big Ten teams traded scores, with the Terps holding onto a slight 20-18 advantage as they triumphed in the race to twenty and slowly built to a second set victory to avoid going down 2-0.
Like Wednesday, this showdown headed to a crucial third set to decide which direction this grudge match would head in the eventual fourth set.
Maryland sprinted out to a 4-1 lead thanks to a pair of kills from Ricks and a combo block by Jones and Pritchard, the team’s seventh on the night. No lead has been safe in this one, as Rutgers made an example of that by putting together their own spurt to take a 7-6 lead.
A 6-0 run by Rutgers, which featured two service aces from Cieslik, put the Terrapins into a 18-13 hole, causing Hughes to call two timeouts over the course of that run to try and inject some new life into Maryland’s third set efforts.
The two regroupings were no match for the persistence of the Scarlet Knights, as kill after kill led to a massive 10-1 run, ultimately sealing the set, 25-17.
Maryland couldn’t find any answers in set number four, trailing by five early as the Scarlet Knights continued to collect kills like clockwork.
Rutgers kept on building with its suddenly prolific offense, as their hit percentages increased with each set as Maryland’s trended the other direction. A poor finish was finalized by Rutgers’ 64th kill of the night, dropping the Terps to a disastrous 4-14 record.
Three things to know
1. Massive disparity in kills dug the Terps in a deep hole. The Scarlet Knights outmatched Maryland in kills, 64-44, digging the Terps in a massive hole in what seemed like a promising offensive output by the road team in the early going. After going toe to toe in that department in the first two sets, Maryland was ran out of the gym, ceding 33 kills to their 17 in the final two sets.
“It’s just number of opportunities and that’s where if you can’t pass, you can’t take care of the first touch and it doesn’t matter what you do,” Hughes said. “ ... If you’re not passing it’s like playing football from the 50 yard line.”
2. Maryland was killed on the serve. On Wednesday, the two sides matched each other with six aces a piece. On Saturday, however, the massive disparity raised some red flags for the Terps. The Scarlet Knights are dead last in the Big Ten with a 1.11 service ace per set average. They crushed that mark against Maryland, collecting 13 compared to just a single ace from the away team. It was just another massive statistical disparity between the two sides, as Maryland was completely outmatched down the stretch.
“I feel like we need to focus on our first touch so that our setters and hitters can get a better feel for the court,” Finnerty said.
3. Rutgers shot for history. The Scarlet Knights came into this game seeking not just a victory for its seniors on senior day, but its first regular season series sweep against a Big Ten opponent. With the Terps playing the victim, It’s just another smudge on a down year for Hughes and his Terps, who fall to ten games under .500 and suffer their second consecutive series sweep.
“These next couple of practices we’re definitely going to be maxing out and we need to go full gas until the very end,” Jones said.