Sydney Dowler took a hop-step behind the service line before leaping into the air, lobbing a ball high above her head and striking it for a sizzling serve attempt.
Dowler’s speedy serve flew over the net and careened off of the arms of a Michigan State defender — rolling harmlessly foul for a Maryland service ace.
Dowler’s ace pushed a lopsided fourth set further out of reach for Maryland volleyball, which bounced back for its first conference victory on the road in a 3-1 defeat of Michigan State, (18-25, 25-21, 25-16, 25-18).
“I think that was our grittiest win of the season,” coach Adam Hughes said. “To go on the road like that I thought it was a good bounce back after a slow start, and very proud of the effort.”
Both the Terps and Spartans came out swinging to open the Saturday evening contest, as each squad looked to rebound following Friday evening defeats to Big Ten opponents.
The Terps’ middle block turned the momentum in their favor early, walling a Cecilee Max-Brown kill attempt on the opening point. The Spartans quickly responded, rattling off four straight points behind back-to-back service aces by Bianca Kabengele to garner an energy boost of their own.
And while Maryland accumulated four blocks in the opening frame, Michigan State swiftly and efficiently found the holes in the Terps’ defense to grab the first set in East Lansing.
After a kill by Celia Cullen pushed a late Spartan lead to three, Kabengele connected on her first putaway of the evening to push the frame further out of reach. Coach Cathy George’s Spartans struggled to piece together efficient runs on Friday against Wisconsin, but clocked a dazzling .472 hitting percentage to vanquish the Terps in a 25-18 first set victory.
“We got our butts kicked in the first set,” Hughes said. “We had a little conversation after the first set, just said that… it’s just not our style of play, we had to take it a little more personal I thought.”
Michigan State’s balanced first set victory came at the hands of Cullen, who spread the ball around the court evenly to keep Hughes and the Terps guessing. Six Spartans converted on two or more kills in the first set, gashing Maryland’s block from both sides of the court.
But the Terps adjusted accordingly in the subsequent frame.
Racing out to a 3-0 advantage to open the second set, Hughes’ squad found its footing to swing back at the streaking Spartans. Middle blocker Rainelle Jones made her presence known up front, cooling off a once scorching hot Michigan State attack by forcing the Spartans into an array of attack errors.
Outside hitter Sam Csire also came to life, pummelling five second-set kills to punish George’s squad from the outside. A stark contrast to the Spartans’ efficient first set performance, the Terps held Michigan State to a .111 hitting percentage in a 25-21 second set victory to knot the contest at one set apiece.
“They responded really well in the second set, got themselves in it,” Hughes said. “And then, you know, just kind of took over from there.”
And in a pivotal third set of action, the Terps kept their foot on the gas.
With the third frame knotted at 10, a Hannah Thompson spike spurred a 5-0 Maryland run. Csire continued to cook, denying a Cullen kill with a massive solo block to set the Terps’ rowdy bench ablaze.
Csire led Maryland’s offense with 15 total kills on the evening. She converted on five kills in the set along with two service aces to lead the Terps to a comfortable 25-16 third set victory. Csire stifled a once potent Michigan State squad with a barrage of high-flying attacks, locating deftly placed lobs from Dowler to punish the Spartan defense.
With the momentum firmly on the Terps’ side again, Hughes’ squad breezed to a 25-18 fourth set victory to close out the Big Ten battle. Maryland, which started off at a sluggish pace in the opening set, bounced back for its first conference win on the road over a worthy conference adversary.
“Our main focus today was to just play as a team, play together, and I think we just did a really good job today of executing our game,” Csire said.