The Maryland volleyball team didn’t have time to relax after losing in straight sets to No. 2 Minnesota in its Big Ten opener on Friday evening. Instead, the squad flew to Madison, Wisconsin, for a clash Saturday with No. 3 Wisconsin.
In the morning, the Terps arrived at Wisconsin Field House to practice passing and serving. Then they watched film on the Badgers, who entered the contest with three straight wins against top-20 teams.
Coach Steve Aird called the turnaround the toughest in the country but said gaining experience in two loud road environments helped his squad develop its composure.
Even though Maryland lost both weekend matches, the team was competitive in the third set against Wisconsin. After losing the first two frames to the Badgers, 25-12 and 25-18, the Terps dropped the final frame, 25-21.
“[That third set] definitely gives us a little bit of confidence going into next week,” middle blocker Hailey Murray said. “To be able to turn your performance around after how we started in the first set was important. … It was just going into the timeout, getting our heads right and deciding that we were going to battle through it.”
Still, it was a frustrating weekend for the Terps, who opened conference play 0-2 for the third year in a row. While Aird tried to remain positive with his players during the games’ timeouts, he acknowledged the difficulty in guiding his team through two blowout defeats.
“It’s hard because the kids are competitive and I’m competitive,” Aird said. “I know that at times they can play better than they’re playing, but sometimes when the opponent is excellent … the margin of error is very slim.”
Maryland struggled through three long runs against Minnesota. The Golden Gophers jumped out to a 7-1 lead in the first set, finished on an 8-1 run in the second and went on a 16-2 run in the third.
The Terps experienced similar negative stretches in the first two sets against Wisconsin, which Aird attributed to the Terps’ lack of composure and unforced errors. The Badgers began the game with a 12-2 advantage and added a 6-0 streak in the second set.
“It wasn’t focus,” Aird said. “It’s experience and understanding how to manage a game. The biggest difference between the top teams in the country and the teams that are hoping to be top teams is the ability to manage errors and keep control of the ball.”
Murray, who finished second on the team in kills against Wisconsin, said the Terps became more comfortable with the Wisconsin Field House crowd noise in the third set. It helped them remain within four points of the Badgers for the entire frame.
Aird believes that progress will be a better measure of his team’s growth than wins and losses in a campaign he doesn’t expect to end in a postseason berth. With a young roster aiming for future success, the coach is “a lot more concerned about us than who we’re playing.”
“We played two really good teams in back-to-back nights in two different cities, and it was a tall task,” Aird said. “But I thought we kept getting better the whole weekend, and we finished playing pretty good ball in the third set against Wisconsin.”