Northwestern’s Julia Sangiacomo confidently leaped from the middle of the back row and whistled a spike across the net toward Sydney Dowler.
Maryland’s setter lunged to her right and could only glance the blazing attack, which careened off her and sailed beyond the endline for Sangiacomo’s 27th and final kill of the night.
The Terps held their own against Northwestern’s leading scorer in the first set, but Sangiacomo quickly heated up and scalded Maryland throughout the Terps’ 3-1 loss to the Wildcats on Friday in Evanston, Illinois.
“She was the difference in the match, but she has been that way most of the season for them,” coach Adam Hughes said. “Just gotta tip your hat. She had some shots that were pretty scary.”
Sangiacomo was efficient, only committing seven errors. The Terps simply couldn’t keep up. Maryland (13-6, 3-4 Big Ten) belted 29 kills throughout the first two sets but sputtered after that, hitting below .100 in each of the final two frames. Sam Csire’s 13 kills led the Terps, who lost in Evanston for the first time since 2016.
Maryland caught a break on the night’s opening point when Hughes’ successful challenge overturned a Northwestern (9-8, 3-4 Big Ten) kill into an error. Maryland parlayed Hughes’ objection into a four-kill barrage that Dowler capped with a sizzling left-handed spike through the heart of the Wildcats’ defense that sprung the Terps ahead 5-0.
Laila Ivey’s four kills led an attacking platoon that featured five different scorers as Hughes’ squad laced eight putaways before its first error. Northwestern routinely fed Sangiacomo, but Maryland stood tall against the 6-foot-5 outside hitter, holding her to three kills in the opening frame.
The Terps’ efficient attack kept them comfortably ahead until Maryland’s serving pressure took over in the stanza’s closing stages. Back-to-back aces by Jonna Spohn and another from Erin Engel stretched the Terps’ lead to seven and gave Maryland plenty of space to shuffle to a 1-0 lead.
Sangiacomo began finding the seams in the Terps’ defense in the second frame. Her four kills kept the Wildcats upright as both sides sparred deep into the set.
Leilani Dodson blanketed back-to-back Maryland spikes amid a five-point surge that flipped Northwestern’s three-point deficit into a 15-13 edge. But a well-timed Terps timeout drew up a handful of sets for Anastasia Russ to halt the Wildcats’ momentum — Maryland’s own 6-foot-5 star bookended a three-point surge with a pair of kills to push the Terps back in front.
A late Northwestern error seemed to tilt the teetering set in Maryland’s favor, but Sangiacomo’s spikes fueled the frame’s decisive swing. The Santa Clara transfer belted three straight putaways to cap a 5-1 jolt that sent Maryland back to its bench trailing by two. Hughes’ timeout only delayed the Terps’ collapse as the Wildcats pocketed the final two points of the set to steal a 25-21 win.
“We tried different matchups. We tried different looks at her and [Sangiacomo] just kept finding answers,” Hughes said. “We couldn’t find a solution for her.”
Maryland’s grip on Sangiacomo — and the match — weakened in a critical swing set.
Sangiacomo built on her eight-kill second stanza with seven more putaways in the third as Northwestern bottled up Maryland’s fading attack. The Terps hit .071 and never led throughout the frame en route to their eight-point loss.
“We got too tentative,” Hughes said. “We’re trying to find a good balance of … managing the game and trying to put people in pressure situations. The downside is when you do that, sometimes you take … not enough risk.”
After an error-ridden first set, Csire found her swing in time to keep Maryland punching. The senior muscled consecutive kills to key a three-point run that lifted the Terps ahead 14-13. Her block assist knotted the stanza at 16, but neither she nor her teammates could slow the Wildcats’ offensive onslaught.
Maddy Chinn’s second putaway of the night sparked a crippling four-point run that Sangiacomo capped with her 26th kill. Csire and Ivey fought to keep the Terps alive until Sangiacomo cocked her arm back for one final swing that delivered Maryland its first losing streak this season.