After pushing No. 24 Illinois to five sets in its previous contest, the Maryland volleyball team entered this past weekend confident it could compete with No. 21 Michigan State and No. 23 Michigan.
Libero Kelsey Wicinski said the performance against the Fighting Illini helped the team regain its confidence after losing in straight sets in its first three conference match ups.
The Terps won a set against Michigan State and Michigan but fell, 3-1, to both programs. Those results cemented the conviction that they could play close with ranked schools, something the squad had struggled to do earlier in the season.
Still, Maryland’s competitive weekend losses underlined an inability to finish matches on a positive note.
“I’m happy with the fight this team showed,” coach Steve Aird said of the Spartans match. “Michigan State played pretty physically, and they’re a tough serving team, but I think we were able to hang with them.”
Against the Fighting Illini on Oct. 2, the Terps took a 14-13 lead in the decisive fifth set. However, with just one point needed to win the match, they conceded three straight points to seal a defeat.
That theme continued this past weekend, as Aird’s squad squandered fourth-set advantages in both contests.
The Terps held a 19-18 advantage over the Wolverines but allowed a 7-2 run to end the match. Then against the Spartans, they blew a 16-13 lead on a 12-1 run.
Outside hitter Gia Milana, who played in her home state for the first time in her college career, said the late game meltdown was unacceptable. While it was nice to compete with teams like Michigan and Michigan State, she wants the squad to take another step forward and earn a victory.
Through six Big Ten matches, the Terps have failed to earn a conference win. Overall, they have dropped seven games in a row.
“We need to get better,” Milana said. “We can’t be up 16-13 [in a set] and then lose 25-17. That just can’t happen.”
Milana set a career-high with 21 kills against the Spartans. She also notched a double-double in both weekend matches.
But the outside hitter said she “doesn’t care” about those numbers. Instead, she lamented the 20 combined attacking errors she made and said she will work to cut down on those mistakes.
Her coach was more positive in his assessment, though.
“She’s on track to be a very good player,” Aird said. “She’s going to make errors at times because we have to get her the ball a ton, but if we get some more balance from our offense, I think she’ll continue to get even better.”
Nonetheless, the coach hopes his young roster can learn from the errors it made in tight matches against the Wolverines and Spartans to find success in the future.
“We have enough to be in matches, but we have to start believing that we can finish them.” Aird said. “All we can do is hope that the freshmen develop, and by the time they are sophomores and juniors we’ve got some kids in the program that can finish games.”