Maryland volleyball coach Adam Hughes has stressed the importance of scheduling tough nonconference opponents to prepare for the rugged Big Ten season.
A date with Miami, which made the NCAA tournament last season, was undoubtedly the Terps’ toughest draw on paper in the Canes Classic Tournament, which sandwiched matches against Florida International and Lamar around Maryland’s meeting with the Hurricanes.
Hughes was sure to note, however, that the Terps weren’t looking past the Panthers, who finished 8-21 in 2022.
Friday’s season opener proved why.
Florida International gave Maryland all it could handle for the better part of four sets until the Terps’ veteran leaders led a late charge to nail down a 3-1 win over the Panthers in Coral Gables, Florida.
Maryland seemed primed to shake a pesky FIU team after pulling away late in set three to seize a 2-1 lead, but the Panthers jumped on the Terps in the subsequent stanza and led 15-10 after Jade Sadeiko’s 11th kill of the match.
A cluster of Sadeiko errors kept Maryland within striking distance, and the Terps’ seniors made her and the Panthers pay.
Anastasia Russ stacked a kill and a block to put Maryland up 18-17, and Ole Miss transfer Samantha Schnitta clubbed four putaways throughout the next eight points to give the Terps a 23-20 advantage.
Sam Csire capped her sizzling season debut with her 17th kill, and freshman Eva Rohrbach’s ninth spike punctuated Maryland’s hard-fought victory.
Hughes’ starting lineup fused the Terps’ established leaders with some of their newest talent.
Core players like Csire, Russ and Sydney Dowler took their respective positions at outside hitter, middle blocker and setter and delivered the gritty performances Maryland needed. Csire finished with a match-high 17 kills, Russ added six spikes with four blocks and Dowler dished out 40 assists.
Both of Maryland’s transfers, Schnitta and Lilly Gunter, earned starting nods, while Rohrbach was the Terps’ lone freshman to start the match. Laila Ricks, a senior who started 27 matches for the Terps last season, never left the bench.
Rohrbach smacked down two kills as the Terps opened up an early 5-1 lead, but the Panthers hung around behind four spikes from Mackenzie Morgan and rattled off seven of ten points late in the frame to push Maryland to the brink.
Csire’s fifth kill staved off the first of two set points, but the Terps’ 11th error of the set on the subsequent rally left them in a 1-0 hole.
Both squads jostled for the upper hand in the second set as Csire continued to find her groove. The senior’s back-to-back kills midway through the stanza put her at 10 on the match and gave the Terps a two-point cushion. Rohrbach later catalyzed a three-point run that ballooned Maryland’s lead to 19-15.
A rare Csire misfire kept the door open for the Panthers, who knotted the frame at 22 apiece, but the Terps’ newcomers atoned for their veteran’s mistake.
Schnitta’s fourth kill put Maryland ahead 23-22, and Rohrbach teamed up with Dowler to stymie Morgan at the net and punctuate the Terps’ hard-earned 25-22 triumph.
Csire kept rolling in the third set, pummeling four more kills before her ace gave Maryland a 20-15 lead, the largest by either side at that point. Laila Ivey pumped two of her eight kills to slam the door on set three, but the Terps quickly found themselves on the other end of a five-point margin after Csire’s error made it 12-7 Panthers in the fourth frame.
Csire and Ivey kept the Terps afloat throughout the next few points, enough for Maryland to surge ahead and claim a season-opening victory ahead of its most anticipated test this weekend against the Hurricanes tonight.