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Shorthanded due to COVID-19 related issues, Maryland volleyball falls to Indiana in straight sets

The Terps were unable to withstand attacks from the Hoosiers with a lack of depth.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Heading into Friday’s matchup against Indiana, Maryland volleyball head coach Adam Hughes had gotten the better of his predecessor Steve Aird thrice in the three meetings since his promotion in 2018, one he was thrust into following Aird’s sudden departure.

Having just one win on the season has been a sore spot for the Terps in 2021, but another win over Indiana would have been just what the team needed after last weekend’s postponement stifled its momentum.

The Terps hadn’t lost to the Hoosiers since Oct. 2, 2015, but bogged down by COVID-19 related issues, that changed Friday night. Maryland was swept in three sets (25-27, 22-25, 19-25), dropping the team to 1-0 on the season.

“With only 10 active players right now, we were trying to make the best lineup we can and worry about our side of the net,” Hughes said.

Just a week before the match, Maryland had a series against Penn State postponed due to “health and safety concerns agreed upon by both programs,” according to a press release from the team.

Head coach Adam Hughes revealed in a Zoom interview Thursday night that there was a positive within the program, but due to increased testing over the past week the team was given the green light to be able to compete. Every other team in the conference that’s faced COVID-19 issues this season — seven out of 14 teams — has sat out of play for at least two weekends.

After being asked by Testudo Times why the team was able to return so fast, the Maryland athletic department stated: “Daily antigen testing was conducted plus the addition of daily PCR testing. There was no practicing or group meetings for 72 hours until all athletes cleared testing.”

No information was given about the extent of the COVID-19 issues within the Maryland program, but as play began against the Hoosiers, some notable faces were missing for the Terps.

Starters Jada Gardner and Sam Burgio were absent in Bloomington, while Hailey Rubino and Chloe Prejean weren’t seen on the sidelines as well.

“We went above and beyond the Big Ten protocols ... everyone’s gonna take their safety and well-being over wins and losses,” Hughes said. “Hopefully it’ll allow us to finish the season in a healthy way.”

The shorthanded Terps were in the driver’s seat in the early going, with freshman Laila Ricks leading the way for the Terrapins on a perfect 3-for-3 on kill attempts. With Gardner’s offense gone, Ricks took advantage of the opportunities presented to her, catapulting the Terps to a 16-12 lead as Indiana called a timeout.

Out of the break in action, the Hoosiers began to mount a comeback, with Breanna Edwards supplying two kills as a part of a 7-2 run. Maryland responded with a timeout to try and sway the momentum back to its side, but neither team could gain the upper hand with the set approaching its end.

Rainelle Jones help fend off Indiana’s attempts at pulling away with two equalizing kills at the 21 and 22 point mark. Three more ties followed, with Maryland continually playing catch-up late.

Sam Csire used a kill to combat Indiana’s second attempt at set point to tie it at 25, the 14th tie of the set. But it wouldn’t be enough as Maryland’s block attempt scraped off the fingertips of Cara Lewis, finishing off the first set in favor of the home team, 27-25.

It was a quiet first set from the Big Ten’s leader in kills per set, but Erika Pritchard woke up as the second set began. After a -.250 hitting percentage in the first, Pritchard came out firing with three kills and two services aces to give the Terps an early 7-4 advantage.

The set began to get away from the Terps, however, with the Hoosiers piecing together a 5-0 run thanks to four kills via Edwards. Indiana eventually took the set ,25-22, with the Hoosier offense consistently attacking Maddie Naumann, who was filling in for the absent Burgio at libero.

Maryland gave up 31 kills on .317 hitting percentage in the first two sets, a tell tale sign of the COVID-stricken Terps suffering from a shorthanded defense.

Prior to this weekend’s match, Burgio placed second in the Big Ten in digs per set with 4.37. Her leadership at the libero spot was severely missed against Indiana today, as the Terps let the Big Ten’s worst offense run all over them.

The third set saw much of the same, with Maryland failing to put together any momentum in a lifeless outing against the 2-10 Hoosiers. Maryland dropped the third set 25-19 as the nightmarish outing concluded in straight sets.

“It’s never an easy thing to not have your whole team there,” Nicole Alford said. “A lot of people had to play roles they weren’t necessarily used to ... it wasn’t necessarily difficult, it was more just different.”

Three things to know

1. Despite the missing players, Maryland’s depth showed once again. Hughes has not been afraid to look at his young pieces off of the bench, which has become a mini-storyline of sorts in this rough season. Notable standouts such as Csire, Ricks and Lexy Finnerty had marquee moments in the road trip to Ann Arbor two weekends ago. With this weekend’s several absences due to contact tracing, the young guns had even more of a prominent role in the team’s game plan this week.

Csire took the lead on the offense with an eight kill total on a solid .250 hitting percentage. Ricks was impactful early on in place of Gardner on the offense, while Sydney Dowler was a key player on defense with six digs on the evening.

“One individual can’t win or lose the game,” Csire said. “We know that no matter what, we have people who can step up and play a role.”

2. Maryland lacked in several statistical categories. Two strong suits for the Terps this season has been its ability in blocking and the solid dig per set average. Both of those categories went out the window with the absence of Gardner and Burgio, as the Terps looked lost in this one.

Gardner places third on the team in blocks with 34 on the season, forming a solid tandem with Jones to help catapult the Terps to first in the Big Ten in blocks per set. On Friday against Indiana, Maryland mustered just seven blocks.

As for digs, Burgio’s absence was even more apparent, as the team’s 12.59 per set average fell to just 9.67 against Indiana. The lack of leadership on defense failed to allow Maryland any wiggle room in building momentum with runs.

3. What now? The cat’s out of the bag. Maryland volleyball hadn’t released any information prior to the game’s commencement about which players were to be missing in action. Some of that is definitely strategical in not allowing Indiana the upper hand, but now that the Hoosiers know that Gardner and Burgio are not in the state of Indiana, how will the Terps adjust to combat the Hoosier’s plan of attack?

“We’ve made some changes, but it’s not really all that different,” Alford said. “Trusting in your teammates, but also trusting in yourself that you have the skills necessary to win games, even when things are a little bit crazy.”