Maryland volleyball had successfully handled most of Michigan’s blazing serves to spring ahead by two sets in Sunday’s match in College Park.
But after surrendering an ace that dwindled their third-set lead to 7-6, the Terps were caught flat-footed when Valentina Vaulet’s ensuing serve scraped the top of the net and fluttered towards the court. Lilly Gunter was positioned in the back row anticipating another Vaulet fastball, but Maryland’s libero snapped forward and dove headfirst with her arms extended in front of her.
Gunter popped the ball up to setter Sydney Dowler, who connected with outside hitter Laila Ivey for a kill that restored the Terps’ two-point lead.
Maryland coach Adam Hughes said Gunter’s diving reception was one of the most crucial saves the Terps’ serve receive made. That save came during a match where Maryland routinely fielded whatever Michigan offered from the endline with pristine composure en route to a 3-0 sweep.
“I thought it was a big moment right there because we just don’t want to give everyone momentum back,” Hughes said.
Hughes said Wednesday he was wary of the Wolverines’ serving platoon — coach Erin Virtue’s squad entered Sunday’s match averaging 2.05 aces per set, the second-most in the Big Ten. But the Terps stayed scrappy on the defensive end and surrendered just four against the Wolverines — matching Michigan’s season-low.
Vaulet’s forceful serves posed a considerable threat to Hughes’ squad, which struggled to corral a bevy of similarly aggressive offerings from Florida Gulf Coast on Sept. 16. Maryland conceded 10 aces against the Eagles but limited Vaulet to three aces on 13 deliveries. Kendall Murray, who ranks in the top five in the Big Ten in aces per set, registered zero.
Gunter displayed the steadiness expected from a senior with three years of SEC experience at Mississippi State, but even the Terps’ freshmen flashed some veteran-like moxie in the infant stages of their Big Ten careers.
Maryland led 15-12 in the second set when Alex McGillivray set her feet in the middle of the back row as Vaulet’s serve whizzed toward her. The Terps’ first-year defensive specialist crouched down and calmly redirected the ball right to Dowler, who set up Eva Rohrbach for a putaway that ignited a run of 10 straight points as Maryland stormed ahead to a second set 25-12 win.
Maryland led the subsequent set from start to finish — thanks in particular to Gunter’s effort — en route to its first-ever home victory over the Wolverines.
“A lot of these guys, including myself, came here to do things that have never been done,” Hughes said. “Happy we crossed another one off the list.”
The Terps complemented their energetic effort on serve receive with keen discipline. Hughes’ squad watched Michigan scatter 13 service errors, nine of which came from the endline directly in front of the bleachers upon which Maryland’s spirited marching band perches.
“They love to chirp,” Murray said in a written statement.
The Wolverines’ erratic serving wasn’t an anomaly — Michigan has spewed at least 10 service errors in each of its last five matches. But with Gunter, McGillivray and some extra noise from the stands, the Terps effectively tamed one of the Wolverines’ biggest strengths and waltzed off the Xfinity Center Pavilion court with an early-season Big Ten victory.