Entering this weekend, Maryland volleyball was playing some of their best volleyball of the season before battling against two top-10 teams in the nation.
Friday night, the Terps lost to No. 3 Minnesota in four sets despite out hitting and out blocking the Gophers. Saturday night, Maryland’s senior night was spoiled in straight sets to No. 7 Wisconsin.
Despite the loss against Minnesota, the Terps (17-13, 8-10) had four players finish with double-digit kills. Sophomore outside hitter once again led the way with 16 kills. Sophomore setter Nicole Alford finished with 43 assists, putting her over 1,000 total, the first Maryland setter to do so since 2011.
“It’s crucial, shoutout Nicole for dishing it out to all of us,” senior outside hitter Liz Twilley said. “You have to have people going from all different angles to keep them on their toes.”
Freshman libero Allegra Rivas led the way for the Terps defensively, finishing with 25 digs. The middle blocker duo of freshman Rainelle Jones and redshirt freshman Katie Myers led Maryland’s blocking efforts.
Offensive balance and efficiency was the key to the Terps first-set success. Five different Terps players finished with at least one kill in set one. As an offensive unit, the Terps hit .414 -one of their highest in a set all season. Sophomore outside hitter Erika Pritchard led the way with seven kills, followed by redshirt freshman middle blocker Katie Myers, who finished with four.
“It started in our warmup, we had a really strong warmup,” Alford said. “We’re not gonna come in and see what happens. We’re gonna go out there and take it.”
The next three sets, the Gophers gained the upper hand over the Terps. After trailing 14-8 in set two, Minnesota used a 7-0 run to retake the lead changing the complexion of the match. A veteran laiden team, who entered the match with only two losses, did not flinch after dropping the first set.
Freshman outside hitter Adanna Rollins found more openings as the match progressed to lead the Gophers with 19 kills, complemented by sophomore outside hitter Stephanie Samedy’s 16.
“I thought our kids played extremely hard and gave ourselves a window and they had a lot of belief tonight,” head coach Adam Hughes said.
On Saturday, the Pavillion was rocking with 1,848 fans filling the stands setting a new attendance record.
Entering the match, the Badgers had one of the best defenses in the conference, led by 6-foot-8 middle blocker Dana Rettke. Rettke finished with six blocks and made it difficult for the Terps blockers to find gaps in the defense with her length. Maryland finished the night with a .127 hitting percentage, struggling to break .100 in both the first and third sets.
“We definitely had to know what our shots were on the court because they were really good defensively. So we really had to focus on changing our shots if they blocked it,” Jones said.
The Terps were leading 19-17 in the first set on a crucial point, yet Wisconsin won the challenge to give the Badgers a renewed energy, winning six of the next seven points propelling them to the first set victory.
“It was an inadvertent whistle, the reversal was that they blew the whistle too fast,” Hughes said. “Just unfortunate the whistle came a little too soon.”
The second set was a back-and-forth battle where neither team established a lead larger than two. When the Badgers took a 24-22 lead, the Terps dug deep and battled back saving four set points before dropping the set 28-26. Pritchard and Jones were key down the stretch in set two, with several important kills extending the set.
After two tightly contested sets, the Badgers began to pull away in the third to take a 24-17 lead late. Hughes sent Twilley to the service line for one last time in her four years in College Park. Led by Twilley’s diving defensive efforts and the attacks of Pritchard, the Terps saved five of seven match points. Despite the loss, the Terps maintained resilience throughout.
“The best moment to me was probably those last seven or eight points where it could’ve been easy to mail it in,” Hughes said. “Our senior is out there all over the place diving and making plays. The gym is going nuts.”
The Terps will now travel to Iowa and then No. 6 Nebraska looking to close out the regular season strong and potentially strengthen their NCAA tournament resume.