Maryland volleyball’s match at No. 1 Wisconsin on Sunday presented challenges outside of the Terps’ control.
They couldn’t cope with the Badgers’ imposing size at the net or their raucous home crowd of more than 7,000 fans. The Terps could only watch as Wisconsin thwacked five serves that hit the net before rolling over for unlucky aces.
But Maryland also failed to take advantage of what they could control on Sunday.
The Terps scattered 12 balls out of bounds — a slew of unforced errors that made an already daunting matchup almost impossible to win. Maryland never seriously challenged the top-ranked Badgers and fell 3-0.
The Terps have struggled to strike a balance between attacking too aggressively and too cautiously, and it’s beginning to hurt them in conference standings. Maryland has lost three-straight games and are 3-5 in Big Ten play.
“We can’t find this good medium ground,” coach Adam Hughes said. “It seems like it’s all or nothing at times.”
His team’s erratic offense on Sunday came one match after it committed 19 attack errors during a 3-1 loss to Northwestern on Friday.
The Terps were crisp in their first two sets against the Wildcats, lacing 29 kills to only seven attack errors. However, the third frame encapsulated the offensive inconsistency that has kept Maryland from building on its encouraging start to conference play.
Seven different players combined for 11 kills, but the Terps’ wild swings did them in. Maryland misfired on eight attacks in a set it lost by as many points.
Hughes said the Terps’ offense became too tentative against the Wildcats — it showed in the fourth frame as Maryland tried to claw back from a 2-1 deficit. The Terps managed one kill on every four attacks in the set, their lowest ratio in any of Friday’s sets. Maryland’s 10 kills did little to override 16 putaways by Northwestern, who benefitted from another bundle of Maryland errors to prevail 3-1.
The offensive woes drifted north to Madison two days later.
The Terps never recorded more than nine kills in any set as they struggled to find gaps in a towering Wisconsin front row headlined by 6-foot-9 Anna Smrek and 6-foot-7 Carter Booth. Anastasia Russ, Maryland’s tallest player at 6-foot-5, managed four putaways, one less than the team high.
Hughes was content with the Terps being blocked eight times given the Badgers’ overwhelming height advantage. The coach was more critical of the spikes Maryland erred on.
“If you add on 12 attack errors on top of [eight blocks], you’re giving a lot of free points to a team that doesn’t need any,” Hughes said.
The Terps ultimately gave away 31 points in attack errors — more than an entire set’s worth — throughout their losses on Friday and Sunday.
Last weekend’s matches were the latest in a string of inconsistent offensive performances that have hampered Maryland throughout October. The Terps are yet to hit above .175 in a game this month, toting a 1-4 record in that span. It’s a foreboding trend that threatens to derail Maryland’s best-ever five-game start in Big Ten play.
Hughes said searching for a middle ground between playing timid and reckless on offense is Maryland’s main focus moving forward. His team needs to find that balance quickly.