As Maryland volleyball setter Taylor Smith’s serve crashed into the net to give Howard its 24th point of the fourth set in Monday night’s match, a portion of the Terps faithful at Xfinity Pavilion let out an audible sigh.
With Maryland playing in front of its home crowd for the first time this season, nerves gave way to frequent errors, particularly on serves. Service errors helped keep the Terps from winning the second and fourth sets (26-24, 25-21), pushing the match the distance.
Maryland tallied 16 service errors against the Bison — a far cry from its 13 combined in two matches Saturday. So although Maryland came away from its first weekend unscathed in the loss column, serves were the difference between a dominating effort and an erratic one.
“In the first two matches of the year,” coach Adam Hughes said, “I thought that [serving] was our strength.”
Eventually, the team triumphed over Howard in the fifth set behind three kills from outside hitter Erika Pritchard. And while the serving problems couldn’t be ignored, Hughes was pleased that his squad found a way to pull through in the end.
“That’s tough when you know one of your strengths isn’t working,” Hughes said. “You’ve got to find other ways to win. Obviously, happy that people stepped up to find a way.”
The problems began from the onset, with Samantha Snyder’s serve flying past the endline to give Howard the first point of the match. Six more service errors in the frame kept it close, but the Terps eked out the set, 25-23.
Freshman Rebekah Rath, playing in front of the Maryland crowd for the first time in her college career, committed two service errors in the first frame, eventually rebounding with only one the rest of the way.
“I was a little nervous,” Rath said, “but my teammates had my back the whole time.”
Maryland tacked on four more serving miscues in the second set en route to a 26-24 defeat. The team dropped the final six points of the set, a run that included a service error from Pritchard.
The third set was dominated by the Terps; it was their second-most lopsided victory in a frame this year at 25-16. In that set, they only had one service error, showing the kind of team they can be when they serve well.
In 2018, Maryland never had more than 13 service errors in a match. But on Monday, the team piled up 16 of them in its tight contest with the Bison.
The Terps will have time to address the inconsistency issue in practices Wednesday and Thursday in the hopes of quickly correcting it before traveling to San Antonio to take on UT-Rio Grande Valley in the UTSA Classic.
“If we serve well,” Hughes said. “I think we’re a really good team.”