Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

Pritchard, Terps continue strong at Liberty Invitational

The Maryland volleyball team remains undefeated after winning the Liberty Invitational on Saturday, improving the team’s record to 6-0.

Liberty (25-21, 25-15, 25-16)

The offensive prowess of the Terrapins began Friday night, as Maryland faced Liberty in their first match of the invitational.

Freshman outside hitter Erika Pritchard, sophomore outside hitter Gia Milana posted and senior middle blocker Hailey Murray all notched double-digit kills in the opening match. The trio’s combined .376 hitting percentage helped the Terps reach a .362 clip and sweep Liberty

The .362 percentage was one of the program’s all-time highest clip’s for a single match, and was heavily influenced by the team’s first set performance, where they notched 19 kills on a .400 clip.

“We were able to get into a groove early offensively against a tough Liberty squad,” Terrapins head coach Steve Aird told Maryland Sports News. “We knew it would be a test to go on the road with so many young players, and I think they took the challenge and played really well.”

Maryland managed to find a groove early defensively as well. Junior libero Kelsey Wicinski posted a match-leading 23 digs, while sophomore setter Taylor Smith and Milana added a combined 24.

Three of Pritchard’s 13 kills came in the beginning of the first set. Her kills allowed Maryland to take a 7-3 lead in set one. The Flames pushed the score to 8-8, but the Terps were unfazed. A Maryland 8-0 run gave the team a demanding 20-12 lead in the first set. The run was powered by two kills and a block from freshman opposite hitter Samantha Drechsel.

Although the Flames played hard, they could not stop the Terps’ offense. Junior opposite hitter Angel Gaskin placed the Terps at set point 24-20 while Murray finished the set with a kill, winning 25-21.

The Flames’ continued determination kept the second set close early. Liberty had the set tied at 9-9, before Murray and Milana took over. Kills from each gave Maryland an 11-9 edge. Sophomore setter Samantha Snyder’s serves helped Maryland extend the lead further. Her three aces put the Terps up 17-10.

Freshman middle blocker Katie Myers tallied a kill to give the Terps the 25-15 set win, after Murray put the terps at match point.

Wicinski’s defensive dominance was evident in Maryland’s third set. The junior libero’s 12 digs helped Maryland sustain a near set-long lead. A Pritchard ace allowed Maryland to run away with an 18-12 lead, while back-to-back kills from Murray won the set, 25-16. Maryland had won its first three-game sweep of the season.

Elon (25-11, 23-25, 25-21, 25-19)

Maryland’s success continued Saturday morning as the Terps defeated Elon in four sets. Pritchard’s presence on the serving line became evident in the fourth set. Five of her seven aces came in the decisive  set, helping the Maryland Volleyball team stage a comeback. Her 14 kills on a .414 percentage propelled the Terps’ offense all match.

“I think we got off to a really good start, but we lost a little bit of the juice later in the match,” Aird told Maryland Sports News. “We were able to get back in it and serve tough to get the win.”

Only Milana had more kills than Pritchard. Her match-high 15 kills came on a .361 clip.

For Wicinski, her defense continued to be a defining aspect of the weekend. Her six blocks accompanied by Myers six blocks stunned Elon’s offense. Maryland’s offense, on the other hand, was still in full power. Ther Terrapins .684 clip in the opening set gave Maryland a quick 25-11 win.

However, the Terps offense slowed down in the second set. The Flames and the Terps tied nine times throughout the set. Milana’s back-to-back kills to give Maryland a 17-14 lead, but it didn’t last long. . A lack of crispness on the court led to Maryland errors, prompting Elon to take the set win 25-23.

Aird, who spoke on the importance of crispness Tuesday, coached the Terps back to winning form. His starting outside hitters went off for a flurry of kills in the third set. Pritchard’s seven kills eased Maryland into match point while a Milana Kill won the set 25-21.

Elon errors and Pritchard’s five aces sparked a 12-0 run late in the fourth set. Although Phoenix managed to extend the set twice, Maryland won the set  25-19, and the match as well.

Furman (25-15, 25-17, 18-25, 25-14)

Despite Furman being their second opponent of the day, the Terps displayed virtually no fatigue and took the match in four sets.

“I thought we did some nice things this weekend and it’s always great to go home with a few wins,” Aird told Maryland Sports News. “There’s definitely some things to improve on, so we’re looking forward to getting back to work in the gym.”

Pritchard and Drechsel led the Terps’ offense with 13 kills each while Wicinski and Myers led the defense with 20 digs and 10 blocks respectively

Myers’ blocks were essential in Maryland taking an early 11-7 lead in the first set. Milana and Myers excelled offensively as well. The pair posted multiple kills, which ran the score up to 16-12. Furman found the set out of reach after a Smith ace and a Drechsel kill gave the Terps a 21-13 advantage. A Furman error gave Maryland the set win 25-15.

Maryland held Furman scoreless in the opening stages of the second set as the Terrapins took a 5-0 lead. Two Pritchard kills extended the lead to 9-3 and a Murray kill pushed the lead even further at 13-7. Furman showed aggression, but a Myers kill forced a Furman time out, and pushed the Maryland lead to 17-10.  

Aird’s freshmen tacked on late kills to put Maryland at set point 24-17. The freshmen will be essential in Maryland’s conference play, and their play versus Elon was a successful preview.

“We’ll be in a lot of close matches in the Big Ten, where we’re going to need the freshmen to step up and do big things,” Aird said. “I think they have it in them. I’m excited more than I’m nervous.”

Maryland’s awareness faded in the third set with Elon taking an early set lead. Aird regrouped his players and called a timeout down 10-6. Although the Terps worked to tie the game back at 12 a piece, Furman pushed ahead 18-14. Another late-game push by the Terrapins nearly tied the game a second time but Elon countered with a quick 6-0 run. The Paladins had taken the set 25-18.

The Terps, holding a 2-1 match edge, were still in favorable position. Only one set stood between Maryland winning the Liberty Invitational, and the players understood that. Gaskin’s three kills in the fourth set contributed to the Terps’ 6-2 lead. Furman errors played into the Terps’ fourth set resurgence, and extended the lead to 15-9. Pritchard, Myers and Drechsel pushed the game further out of reach and secured the win. Their three kills, ace and pair of kills, respectively, gave Maryland the set win at 25-14 and their third match win of the tournament.

Honors

Milana and Wicinski were lauded for their play and named to the all-tournament team. Officials selected Pritchard as the tournament MVP.  

Up Next

Maryland will continue play away from home next weekend at the Thunder Invite. The Terps will face Toledo (2-4), Virginia Tech (5-1) and Marshall (2-5).

Joel Valley
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Joel Valley

Volleyball Beat Writer & Photographer
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Joel has been the volleyball beat writer at The Left Bench since 2017. He is from Houston and an avid fan of the Texans, Rockets and Astros. In addition to writing, he is also a photographer – a lifelong passion of his.
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