Looking to keep Maryland volleyball’s comeback hopes alive, Laila Ivey reached back and rocketed an attack toward a host of Penn State defenders.
But the freshman’s blast sailed out of bounds. The error brought a sour end to a hard-fought Terps rally as a short-handed Maryland squad fell to Penn State, 3-1.
The Terps have now lost 24 matches in a row to the Nittany Lions, a dubious streak that dates back to 1983.
Maryland stepped onto the Rec Hall court missing two of its defensive centerpieces, middle blocker Rainelle Jones and right side hitter Laila Ricks.
“We found out Monday that that was going to be the case,” coach Adam Hughes said of Jones’ and Ricks’ absences. “It was kind of tough … We built a practice plan for Monday and it fell apart pretty quickly.”
In a bind, Hughes looked to his bench for relief. He found it in the form of sophomore middle blocker Ellie Watson and graduate pin hitter Gem Grimshaw, a duo that had played just 20 sets combined this season but combined for 14 kills and six blocks in their short-notice starts.
Watson displayed the moxie of a seasoned veteran in the opening frame of her first career start, belting three kills and chipping in one of Maryland’s five first-set blocks.
Behind those three kills and seven more putaways from outside hitters Ivey and Sam Csire, the Terps took a late lead looking to steal a set from the nation’s No. 15 team.
But Maryland’s serving woes showed up again after it struggled from the service line in its last match, a loss to Nebraska.
The Terps squandered a 20-19 lead when setter Sydney Dowler’s serve sailed out of bounds. The mistake gifted the Nittany Lions a critical service rotation that propelled them to a 25-21 win in the opening stanza.
“I thought we had a chance to win the first [set],” Hughes said. “We had five missed serves, and we were trying to serve aggressively … kind of a roll of the dice to see what you can do.”
Maryland finished the first set with five service errors and zero aces. The Terps didn’t record their first ace until the third set, breaking a five-set drought.
Maryland surrendered 12 kills to Zoe Weatherington in the team’s first meeting on Oct. 21. Without two of their best defenders, the Terps again struggled to contain Penn State’s explosive outside hitter.
Weatherington smoked three putaways past a patchwork Maryland defense in the first set before her fourth kill of the second frame birthed a 7-1 Penn State push that stretched the home squad’s lead to seven.
But before the Nittany Lions could put the set out of reach, the Terps parried with an 8-2 counterpunch that brought the frame down to the wire.
With Weatherington stuck on four kills in the set, it appeared Maryland had put a lid on Penn State’s offense. But Katie Clark came alive with two of her 13 kills in the match to headline a crushing 5-1 flurry that the Nittany Lions rode to a 25-20 win.
Needing an answer down two sets, the Terps feasted on a bevy of Penn State errors that accounted for seven of Maryland’s first 11 points of the frame.
As both sides jousted for the lead, two more kills from Watson broke a 13-13 tie and gave Maryland a critical edge.
With Penn State on the defensive, Ivey sizzled down the stretch, burying three more putaways to help Maryland force a fourth set with a 25-21 triumph.
“I think the one thing we wanted to do was see if we could get similar results against their two left [side hitters],” Hughes said. “For the most part, I think we did a pretty good job there.”
Csire was next to lead a rejuvenated attack, powering down back-to-back kills that gave the Terps a 12-11 lead and sent Penn State back to its huddle.
She and Grimshaw powered down nine combined kills in the set as the two squads crapped to a 19-19 deadlock.
But once again, the Nittany Lions pounced in the set’s closing stages, using a kill and a crucial ace from Allie Holland to corral six of the final eight points and upend a Maryland comeback attempt, dumping the Terps 25-21.