As the echo of squeaking sneakers cut through the murmur of a tamed Xfinity Center Pavilion crowd, Northwestern’s Temi Thomas-Ailara situated herself at the left pin, reached back and belted another kill past a depleted Maryland defense. 

The senior’s seventh putaway of the night brought a sobering finish to a first set that was mostly controlled by the Terps, who watched their six-point lead evaporate as Northwestern fought back to steal the frame, 25-23. 

Maryland couldn’t recover from its first set flounder, falling to Northwestern 3-0 on homecoming night in College Park. The loss marked its second straight.

“We didn’t close,” coach Adam Hughes said. “We did enough to get a win in the first [set] and didn’t get it done, you know, and I thought we panicked a little bit in the second, gave up two big runs and next thing you know, you’re trying to play from behind.”

The Terps came out swinging in the first set, using three quick Sam Csire kills and pair of stuffs from Anastasia Russ to take an 8-3 lead. 

But after surrendering 65 kills to Penn State in their previous match, Maryland’s defensive difficulties persisted. The Wildcats pumped 19 kills past one of the Big Ten’s premier blocking squads to steal the opening frame.

The Wildcats clawed even at 19 thanks to a successful challenge from coach Shane Davis that corrected a Kathryn Randorf attack error to her second kill of the match. 

[Maryland volleyball loses to Penn State, 3-1, ends three game winning streak]

The Terps struggled to regain their composure down the stretch, and Thomas-Ailara smacked down the final kill of the set to cap Northwestern’s comeback.

“I think we just need to work on bringing intensity from the start,” Russ said. “I felt like the energy wasn’t the same as it was when we were on the road.”

Things continued to worsen for Maryland in the subsequent frame as each Wildcat kill pushed the visitors further ahead. 

But following a pair of timeouts by coach Adam Hughes, Maryland showed some life by sneaking as close as 16-12.

Erin Engel helped her team narrow the margin with a jolt from beyond the endline, dumping a deftly-placed offspeed serve in front of the Wildcats’ defense.

“She’s been earning her keep by [serving], and she’s got a good range with how she can serve,” Hughes said of Engel. “She’s not someone that just hits one speed or one shot”

But when it appeared the Terps were on track to pushing Northwestern to the brink, a controversial review that awarded the Wildcats a point shuttered Maryland’s momentum.

[Maryland volleyball returns to its home court on a three-game winning streak]

The Terps got to within two deeper in the set, but a Randorf kill and a Laila Ivey attack error sent Maryland back to its bench a set away from being swept.

And just eight days after being dispatched in three games by Maryland in Evanston, the Wildcats emphatically returned the favor. 

Six more of Thomas-Ailara’s match-high 18 kills led a Northwestern attack that blasted 15 more putaways to cement a .295 hitting percentage, the highest the Terps have allowed in a match all season.

And when Randorf’s 12th kill of the night sizzled past Maryland’s defense, the Terps’ brutal homecoming night came to a close with a 25-20 defeat in set three.