With a set-point opportunity in hand, Erin Engel sent a serve over to Rutgers’ side of the net looking to seal the opening frame for Maryland volleyball on the road against the Scarlet Knights.
Engel’s scorching serve morphed into a sinking line drive that landed just in front of a diving Rutgers defender, sealing Maryland’s first opening set victory in six matches.
The Terps’ strong opening frame was the prelude to a dominating showing against the Scarlet Knights, as Maryland snapped its five-game slide and claimed its first Big Ten victory of the season with a 3-0 sweep.
“I never doubted that belief and how good this group can be,” coach Adam Hughes said. “I think we showed it today … we were in control of the entire match. I think it probably helps a little bit and [gives] a boost of just reassuring of where we are.”
After being held to a season-low 29 kills in their last match against Illinois, the Terps rebounded with a sparking offensive showing against Rutgers, stacking up 41 kills to complement an efficient .290 hitting percentage.
The duo of outside hitters Sam Csire and Laila Ivey ushered in one of their best performances of the season, each posting 12 kills and combining for just seven errors to lead the Terps.
Csire and middle blocker Anastasia Russ catalyzed Maryland’s fast start, combining for eight putaways as the Terps weathered a 16-kill first-set outburst from the Scarlet Knights.
Csire took control with five kills to parry the duo of Taylor Humphrey and Bekah Williams, who each chipped in four.
The teams battled out to a 13-13 draw before Russ levied her first kill of the frame, a cannoning finish that triggered an 8-2 Terp run that propelled them to a long-overdue first-set victory.
“I feel like after the first set we realized you got to keep going,” senior defensive specialist Lexy Finnerty said. “We’ve got to keep pushing, focusing on our side.”
Finnerty finished with nine digs to help the Terps subdue the Scarlet Knights’ attack after their formidable first set. Rutgers posted just 15 kills across the final two sets.
The Terps’ attack pounded home 13 more putaways to coast to 2-0 lead behind a scorching .480 hitting percentage.
Csire led Maryland’s offensive charge in the first before the other half of Maryland’s outside-hitting duo sliced through the Scarlet Knights in the second frame.
Ivey hammered five of her 12 kills on the day to headline one of the Terps’ most dominating sets of their conference slate, one they won 25-12.
“You gotta be able to pass well,” Hughes said. “I thought we did a pretty good job of getting the ball in the middle of court and allowing our setter [Sydney Dowler] to go work and kind of do her thing.”
Two of Dowler’s 31 assists on the day led to a pair of Ivey kills that helped Maryland sprint to a 6-1 lead it would maintain throughout the set.
A solo block from Maryland’s newly-crowned all-time block leader Rainelle Jones headlined a stifling Terp defensive effort, holding Rutgers to a .148 hitting percentage in the stanza.
In danger of being swept on its home court, the Scarlet Knights pestered Maryland with a balanced offensive attack in the early stages of the third fame behind kills from Humphrey, Megan Vernon and Alissa Kinkela.
The Scarlet Knights’ final kill of the frame came from Kinkela, which gave Rutgers an 11-9 lead.
A service error on the ensuing point started a 9-0 Maryland onslaught that sapped any semblance of energy from the Rutgers’ faithful as their home team’s offense was shut down in the match’s final stages.
Hughes noted that Rutgers’ attacks dropped in each set, that they went from 16 sets in the first set to 10 in the second and just five in the third.
“That means that your group is growing,” he said. “They’re learning, they’re adjusting and they’re executing.”