After a booming Erika Pritchard serve whizzed over the net and gashed the Iowa defense for a service ace, the Xfinity Center Pavilion erupted.
It was a welcome sound for Maryland volleyball, which welcomed families into the stands for the first time this season. Cheered on by a small but mighty crowd, the Terps pulled out a 3-1 victory over the visiting Hawkeyes (26-24, 25-17, 24-26, 25-23).
“It was a tough battle,” coach Adam Hughes said. “There was a lot of tie-score lead changes in three of the four sets, so happy that we were able to execute when we needed it most.”
Iowa found its footing first, capitalizing off multiple Maryland errors to go on a 6-0 run midway through the opening frame.
But the Terps quickly responded, winning five of the next six points thanks in part to a solid service rotation from outside hitter Sam Csire to reassert itself in the opening set.
And while the Hawkeyes made it interesting late in the frame, Maryland’s touted defense became too much for Iowa to handle.
After a Pritchard service ace forced a Hawkeyes timeout with the score knotted at 23, a monstrous block assist by Rainelle Jones and Sydney Dowler pushed the Terps to the brink of taking a 1-0 lead. And while Iowa fought back to push the frame to a deuce, another thunderous rejection by Jones and Dowler just moments later clinched the first frame for Maryland, 26-24.
“It starts in practice,” Jones said. “We have our scouting report, we also have the coaches and the players also communicating with one another.”
While it was the Terps’ suffocating defense that put the first set in the books, it was their attack that garnered an early 15-10 lead in the second frame.
Pritchard — Maryland’s go-to hitter on the wing —came alive. After a Nicole Alford service error drew the Hawkeyes close, Pritchard responded with a high-flying finish over two Iowa defenders, her fourth kill of the set.
Pritchard’s five second-set kills, supplemented by a .500 team hitting percentage in the frame, pushed the Terps over the top. A stark contrast to the first set battle, Maryland took the second frame comfortably, 25-17, and waltzed to the sidelines with a 2-0 lead.
“We knew we were playing well, we were playing together, we were relying on each other,” middle blocker Jada Gardner said. “So we have the confidence within ourselves and from our teammates and then the crowd to really just push us through.”
The fierce competitiveness of the first set was replicated in the third, as both teams came out with a fire on the offensive end. Pritchard continued to cook, seemingly finding every hole in Iowa’s defense en route to a 14-kill evening.
And the Hawkeyes, who were devoid of any momentum in the second set, showed signs of life in the third behind the swings of outside hitters Edina Schmidt and Audrey Black.
The first run of the set came from Iowa, who garnered three unanswered points thanks to back-to-back service aces from middle blocker Amiya Jones. Her success from the endline gave the Hawkeyes a 14-11 lead, forcing Hughes to burn a timeout.
That helped slow Iowa’s roll, as the Terps took back five of the next six points to take the lead.
But Schmidt accumulated five of her six third set kills late in the frame, punishing Maryland at the net to give her team a late lead. And while a Pritchard service ace fended off one set point, back-to-back putaways from Black clinched the third set for the Hawkeyes, 26-24.
So, after being just two points away from a sweep, the Terps headed to a fourth set.
The frame was characterized by defense, as both teams benefitted from big-time blocks in the frame. Maryland was led on the defensive end by freshman Laila Ricks, who picked up eight of the Terps’ 16 blocks on the night.
After a back-and-forth fourth set with multiple lead changes, Maryland applied the most pressure late. After a Csire putaway gave the Terps multiple match points, Gardner hammered a cross-court kill to give Maryland the fourth set, 25-23, and the match.
“The talk in the locker room was obviously, you gotta be humble and hungry,” Hughes said. “I think the staff will make some small adjustments, and then it will come back to if we can execute.”