Entering Friday’s match against Illinois, Maryland volleyball had thrived this season amid the pressure of decisive fifth sets.
An 8-8 tie in the final frame against the Fighting Illini suggested the Terps were in position to seize control and notch their fourth five-set win in as many tries this season.
But when Samantha Schnitta and the ball both fell on Maryland’s side of the court after she was blocked by a pair of Illinois defenders, Maryland’s flawless clutch record vanished.
The Terps surrendered seven of the game’s final nine points and fell 3-2 to the Illini in College Park.
Maryland (13-8, 3-6 Big Ten) committed three errors to fall behind 6-3 before Erin Morrissey revived the Terps with a pair of kills that sparked a surge to push it ahead by one. An Illinois service error evened the frame at eight, but Jessica Nunge atoned with her 15th kill to ignite a vital four-point run. Maryland never mounted a counterpunch in a 15-10 defeat that extended its season-long losing streak to four games.
“Situationally, there were just too many attack errors and honestly too many service errors,” coach Adam Hughes said. “Both of those were what really cost us more than anything else.”
Hughes’ squad committed 19 unforced attack errors and was blocked 17 times. The final of the Terps’ 12 service errors came on the opening point of the fifth set. Later came two erratic spikes that jolted the visitors ahead and forced a Maryland timeout. The Terps scrapped their way back but never found the vital surge it needed to earn what would have been their first-ever win over the Illini.
Maryland’s miscues quickly left it chasing after Illinois in the first set. Three unforced attack errors and an errant serve propelled the Illini ahead by five.
Sydney Dowler, who notched her 3000th career assist in the third set, energized the Terps early when she stonewalled Raina Terry to bring Maryland within 14-11, but the home team’s performance never elicited an ear-splitting roar from its crowd. Schnitta cooled off after four early kills and Kayla Burbage’s solo stuff ballooned the visitors’ lead to eight deep in the frame.
Schnitta was among the Terps’ cleanest attackers Friday — her team-high 14 kills came against six errors.
“Everybody has their slumps and you have to learn to get out of them,” Schnitta said. “The coaching staff does a great job of having meetings with me and making sure we try to get back on track.”
Sam Csire landed a pair of spikes to help Maryland creep within two points, but Burbage and Terry each squeezed in one more putaway apiece to push Illinois (9-10, 4-5 Big Ten) ahead in a set ultimately decided by the home squad’s four self-inflicted errors.
In the second frame, an Illini mistake proved just as crucial. Nunge’s off-target spike jutted the Terps ahead 20-19, a sliver of space that Maryland widened into a four-point gap as its confidence began to blossom.
A stack of set point opportunities elicited a chorus of “Let’s go, Terps” chance from an awakened home crowd — Anastasia Russ rewarded them with a soft tap that feathered down for a kill to clinch Maryland’s three-point win.
But the Terps’ gritty win was just a blip of momentum rather than the start of a surge.
After scrapping to stay within three points at 10-7, Maryland’s inconsistency resurfaced in a tidal wave of errors that drowned out whatever energy the home crowd had. Nine Terps attack errors washed out their nine kills in a lopsided 25-15 Illinois win.
“Some of the attack errors were silly mistakes,” Hughes said. “ … We should have extended some rallies and played a little bit safer in certain areas.”
Russ hammered three kills amid a six-point barrage that propelled Maryland ahead 18-13 in the fourth set. Morrissey’s two late putaways off the bench polished off the Terps’ 25-20 bounce-back triumph.
But after keeping pace with the Illini throughout the first half of the fifth frame, Maryland uncharacteristically faltered where it had previously flourished.