It was all smiles in Maryland volleyball’s huddle after a thunderous Cara Lewis and Sam Csire block assist thwarted an Illinois kill attempt. The Terps had regained their mojo, hardening on defense to force a deciding fifth set in Saturday’s contest against the Illini.
But the good times wouldn’t last.
Illinois’ offense came alive in the fifth and final frame, coasting to a 15-9 victory behind a scintillating Raina Terry performance. The Illini swept the weekend series, dropping the Terps to 4-12 on the season.
“This is what the battle of the Big Ten is.” coach Adam Hughes said. “One or two plays turn the other way, and it could be a different result.”
While Maryland’s effort on Saturday didn’t amount to a victory against the Illini, Hughes and the Terps came out swinging, winning the second set in dominant fashion and flashing their quality against a worthy conference foe.
“I feel like we were really relentless in everything that we did,” libero Sam Burgio said. “We never gave up, even when they were taking sets. We just came back, and we just kept fighting as hard as we could.”
After struggling to find their footing from an offensive standpoint during Friday’s 3-1 loss to the Illini, the Terps showed marked improvement, starting up front with outside hitters Csire and Erika Pritchard, who each tallied double-digit kills on the evening.
“I thought we had a better offensive night there,” said Hughes, “I thought we did a little bit better in serve-receive. [If] we look at the stats, we won a ton of categories.”
The main category of improvement for Hughes’ squad between the two contests was efficiency. After posting a dismal .059 hitting percentage in their initial loss to the Illini, the Terps responded with a .223 clip the following evening, while also converting on more kills and cutting down on attack errors in the second contest.
For Hughes, part of the reason for his team’s increased efficiency was the play of setter Sydney Dowler, who has carved a role for herself at the setter position as a freshman for Maryland.
“I thought Syd Dowler did a phenomenal job just coming in … she got us, I think it was like a five or six point scoring run, kind of flipped the momentum of the entire match.” said Hughes.
However, the much improved performance wasn’t enough to push the Terps over the top.
“Where we were much better today was serve and pass, until we got to the fifth and then that was kind of our Achilles heel,” said Hughes.
The Terps’ offense, which had garnered momentum after a nail-biting fourth set victory, fell flat in the fifth. Maryland was out-killed 11-3 in the final set, as the Illini ran away with the final frame in dominant fashion.
So, despite an improved effort from Hughes’ squad on Saturday evening, Maryland volleyball failed to pick up its first win in program history against the Illini and returned home from its road trip on a two game losing skid.
“Disappointed, [we were] hoping to get that first win against Illinois, but definitely improved from last night, and we’ll have to get back to work to get ready for a very good Rutgers team on Wednesday,” Hughes said.