By AJ Poore
Maryland volleyball came into its match Friday night against No. 2 Wisconsin looking to stay competitive and prove themselves before a challenging Big Ten schedule.
The Terps went one step further and won.
“We took it the same way we have every game, and the only thing that’s different is just a faster competitor, a better, bigger competitor,” defensive specialist Kaylee Thomas said after the match. “But again we didn’t shy away from that. We were aggressive, we were competitive and we took the win.”
Maryland entered the match against Wisconsin with an undefeated record and twenty three set win streak. Both these streaks were in serious jeopardy against the Badgers, as they also entered the match undefeated and ranked second in the nation.
The pavilion at the Xfinity Center was packed to see this marquee matchup for the Terps, and they used the energy provided by the crowd to take an early 8-5 lead over the road favorites despite unblockable hits from 6’9” middle blocker Anna Smrek.
Even so, Wisconsin proved their ranking was for a reason throughout the first set, with four kills from both middle blocker Dana Rettke and outside hitter Lauren Jardine.
The Maryland team continued to make miraculous saves on nearly every Wisconsin hit, with libero Milan Gomillion flying across the court for acrobatic digs.
Outside hitter Paula Neciporuka proved to be the other Terps star of the first set, recording six kills which the Wisconsin defense could do nothing about, including the ending point of the first set in a 25-23 Maryland victory.
The Badgers offense looked unstoppable at times early in the second set, as their kills slammed the ground only feet away from the net. Three early second set kills from red hot Neciporuka couldn’t stop Wisconsin from going on a 4-0 scoring run, giving them an 11-7 advantage and forcing a timeout from Maryland head coach Adam Hughes.
The timeout couldn’t shift the set’s momentum, as Wisconsin took over the game behind Rettke, who accumulated seven kills in the second set en route to a 25-20 set win for Wisconsin.
The lost set was Maryland’s first since a 3-2 win over Temple on September 3rd, and ended their set winning streak at twenty four.
However Maryland’s passionate play didn’t end after a lost set, the Maryland defense looked impenetrable to Wisconsin’s attacks, as middle blocker Rainelle Jones racked up back to back blocks and kept the set tied at ten early.
The back and forth third set continued, before a 6-2 Maryland run gave Maryland a 20-17 advantage late, forcing a Badgers timeout.
Coming out of the timeout, Rainelle Jones once again rejected back to back Wisconsin attacks, forcing the Badgers to take a second timeout after only two points.
The energy did not dissipate late, as another Rainelle Jones block followed by a Sam Csire kill gave Maryland a 25-18 set win, and a 2-1 set advantage over the Badgers.
Wisconsin bounced back to begin the fourth set, grabbing an 8-4 lead over the Terps early, forcing the first Maryland timeout since the second set.
The timeout couldn’t shift momentum to Maryland, as the Badgers forced the Terps into many costly errors through their powerful hits and strong defense.
The Terps began to find their groove late in the set. After trailing 18-10, the Terps gathered themselves and closed the gap to 20-16, but the Badgers lead proved to be too much to overcome and they forced a fifth set with a 25-20 fourth set victory.
Errors proved to be Wisconsin’s kryptonite all night, and that didn’t change in the fifth set. Maryland found four of their first five points of the sets due to Wisconsin errors.
But Maryland couldn’t create any offense of their own, allowing Wisconsin to take an 8-5 lead before calling their first timeout of the set.
The timeout provided a spark for Csire and outside hitter Laila Ricks, who combined for four kills and forced a Wisconsin timeout while the Badgers led 10-9.
The timeout couldn’t slow down Maryland.
Feeding off the raucous home crowd, the Terps returned to the floor and put together three straight points, forcing the Badgers to call their second timeout of the set to try to cool them down.
It didn’t work.
Two more points from Maryland led to a crucial match point, where Csire found herself flying through the air towards a tremendous set. Her powerful hit ricocheted off the hands of Wisconsin’s huge blockers, dropping down off the Wisconsin side of the net to give Maryland a 15-10 win in the final set, and to move the Terps to 13-0.
Maryland head coach Adam Hughes was not looking to dwell on the win too long.
“Obviously I’m proud to have a great win, and I’m going to celebrate this for about ten minute and then get back to work to prepare for a very good Minnesota team Sunday,” he said.
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