After falling just short of setting a career-high in kills last Friday against Georgetown, Laila Ricks was not going to squander the opportunity she had in the fourth set against San Diego State.
Having already notched four kills in the set and Maryland owning match point, Ricks pummeled a putaway off a feed from Sydney Dowler, giving Ricks her career-high eleventh kill that sealed the first of Maryland volleyball’s two victories in its Friday doubleheader in the Aztec Classic.
Ricks’ final dagger was Maryland’s season-high 50th kill of the match, highlighting a day plentiful of Terp putaways as Maryland racked up 96 kills in its victories against San Diego State and Sacramento State despite having no air conditioning in Pritchard Gym for either match.
“I thought it was a really resilient performance,” coach Adam Hughes said. “And just kind of unfortunate there’s a huge heat wave here in California … I thought they did a good job of not letting that get to them.”
After a sluggish start in their last match against USF, the Terps exploded off the blocks against the Aztecs, scoring the first five points. Lexy Finnerty’s ace on the opening serve was the first of five by Maryland in the set.
The Terps never trailed in the first set thanks to the duo of Laila Ivey and Sam Csire, who dissected the Aztec block with five and six kills, respectively, escorting the Terps to a healthy .462 hitting percentage and a 25-14 opening set victory.
After committing only three total errors in set one, the Terps could not stop tripping over themselves in set two. Hughes’ squad committed seven attack errors and three service errors to help the Aztecs pull even.
Consecutive aces from Noa Miller helped the Aztecs claw to a 14-11 lead as Maryland’s pace plodded, and suddenly the Terps were on the defensive.
The Terps could not stay out of their own way, however, gifting the Aztecs two more points on back-to-back misfires by Ricks and Russ for Maryland’s sixth and seventh errors of the frame, respectively.
Those mistakes proved too much to overcome, as Heipua Tautua’a’s fourth putaway of the frame sent Maryland back to its bench with the teams even at a set apiece.
“I thought we were a little bit inconsistent,” Hughes said of his team’s performance in the first match.
The Terps cleaned up their act in set three, but it did little to halt the suddenly surging Aztec offense early in the frame. Despite Gomillion’s second set of back-to-back aces that capped an early 6-0 Maryland run, the Aztecs built a 13-8 lead behind a 9-1 surge that featured a bevy of putaways by Julia Haynie.
Undeterred, Maryland used two more aces and a pair of Ricks kills to collect 11 of the next 14 points and pull ahead 19-17.
The Terps found themselves on the wrong end of a service ace twice in a row as the Aztecs jockeyed ahead 20-19, but an onslaught of San Diego State errors fueled a Maryland rally as the Terps raced ahead 24-20.
Maryland’s late-set surge came to an apex with Ivey’s 11th kill of the match, securing a critical swing set for the Terps, who kept their foot on the gas in the following set.
Just as they did in the opening frame, the Terps never trailed, riding the wave of a .500 hitting percentage and a surprise offensive clinic from Sydney Dowler.
The Aztecs mounted a brief rally late in the set, but a 4-1 Maryland run closed out their victory, 25-18.
“I think that’s what our team needs,” said Hughes. “[It] needs to be in tight situations to learn how we can finish.”
After a brief layover, the Terps laced their shoes back up and returned to the court to face Sacramento State.
Maryland quickly found themselves in a track meet in the opening set against the Hornets, as both sides maintained plus-.450 hitting percentages as Hughes’ squad gained an early 10-8 edge.
The Hornets utilized a balanced attack to keep pace with the Terps, with five players logging at least two kills in the frame.
Caitlin Volkmann’s third putaway of the set pulled Sacramento State to within three, but a pair of 4-0 runs fed by four Hornet attack errors helped Maryland cruise to a 1-0 lead.
Following their sparkling .429 hitting percentage in set one, Maryland stumbled on the attack in the second frame, committing three early errors as the Hornets engineered runs of 6-1 and 4-0 to mount a 10-6 lead.
The set appeared to be slipping away from the Terps following a Csire service error that triggered another 4-0 Hornets run, but a pair of timely Engel aces forced a Sacramento State timeout.
Maryland’s momentum was short-lived, though, as a pair of Hornet block assists and a Dowler error put Maryland on the brink of dropping its second set of the day. The Terps pieced together a 4-0 run of its own to force multiple set points, but Volkmann’s sixth kill of the set slammed the door on a late rally.
“I give Sacramento State credit, really scrappy team,” said Hughes. “They were flying around making plays, did a good job of covering themselves and we couldn’t finish some blocks.”
Locked in another crucial swing set, Maryland overcame eight attack errors to wriggle past the Hornets in a putrid offensive frame for both sides.
The Terps sprung to an 8-4 lead, only to relinquish their advantage with a litany of mistakes.
After having her spike sent back by Ashtin Olin, Ivey committed three additional attack errors as part of a 7-0 Hornets jolt that put Maryland in a three-point hole.
A pair of kills from Ricks and a key putaway from Russ steered Maryland out of that turbulent stretch, evening the set at 17 as Maryland looked to regain its footing.
Two costly errors by Greta Davis put Maryland ahead 21-20, and the Terps capitalized on two more Hornet errors to close within a set of a doubleheader sweep.
It would not come easily, however, as Volkmann continued to be a thorn in the side of the Terps, pounding home six more kills.
Following a 5-0 Hornets run that put Sacramento State ahead 9-8, neither squad could muster more than a two-point lead in a set that bled beyond 25 points.
After the Hornets staved off defeat three times, Davis’ eleventh error of the match punctuated a thrilling 28-26 Maryland victory as the Terps improved to 6-2.
“We were in a tricky spot,” said Hughes. “We were down, I think 17-13, tied at one in the third. And, you know, for them to go toe to toe and stand tall, I was very proud of them.”