Maryland volleyball struggled to hold onto leads during its straight-set loss at Michigan State on Friday. It was a defeat the Terps could ill-afford to begin the season’s final month as their possibility for an NCAA tournament bid narrowed.
Sunday’s match at Michigan seemed to be a favorable opportunity for Maryland to pick up a much-needed win — the Terps had already swept the Wolverines this season. But for the second-straight match, Maryland failed to put a complete set together.
The Terps again blew leads in the first two frames before fading away in the third stanza, which spelled another costly late-season loss, this time a 3-0 defeat on Sunday in Ann Arbor.
“It’s how this sport works,” coach Adam Hughes said. “One window can open a big gap, and once that happens, the match can change complexion really quickly.”
Maryland (15-11, 5-9 Big Ten) has lost seven of its last 10 matches. All but one of the Terps’ Big Ten wins have come against the conference’s three worst teams in Michigan, Rutgers and Iowa, who are a combined 6-36 in league play.
After surrendering eight aces and committing 10 service errors during its straight-set loss at Michigan State on Friday, Maryland’s serving game continued to struggle against the Wolverines (6-17, 4-10 Big Ten). The Terps jumped ahead 8-4 before Samantha Schnitta’s service error kickstarted a five-point run that Michigan’s Kendall Murray completed with an ace to slide Michigan ahead.
Maryland’s back row looked helpless as Valentina Vaulet sizzled two more aces on consecutive points that triggered a Terps timeout with Maryland behind 15-12.
The Terps swung their way back into the set by relying on attacks from the outside — Sam Csire, Schnitta and Sydney Bryant combined to pummel 11 of Maryland’s 14 putaways in the first frame. Csire followed Bryant’s third kill with a go-ahead ace to headline a five-point run that pushed the Terps ahead 22-20, but whatever poise Maryland displayed during its rally quickly evaporated.
Vaulet gashed the Terps with three putaways amid the Wolverines’ five-point counterpunch that knocked Hughes’ squad into a 1-0 deficit.
“We got to look a little bit more inwards towards who wants to finish it,” setter Sydney Dowler said, “and it has to be us. … We can’t expect them to finish it.”
Maryland switched sides before the second stanza, but its inconsistency tagged along.
The Terps started out hot again, clobbering a cluster of kills to spring ahead 15-7. But Maryland cooled off just as quickly and its lead vanished. Murray smothered Schnitta on consecutive points, Csire missed on two straight spikes and Anastasia Russ concluded the Terps’ mid-set meltdown with an errant attack that tied the frame at 15.
What looked like a runaway win for Maryland emerged into a contested sprint to the finish — one in which Michigan overtook the Terps to seize a two-set lead. Bryant’s kill out of a timeout cut Maryland’s deficit to 20-19, but the Terps’ attack never struck again. The Wolverines hammered the final four putaways of the set, one they closed on a 5-1 run.
“We just got a little pressure put on us and went high-error,” Hughes said. “ …We weren’t ever able to overcome that kind of mental barrier of, “Hey, we had a huge lead and lost it,’ and then after that, never really regained form.”
Maryland never even found a lead to squander in the third frame. Csire’s ace brought the Terps within a point at 6-5 — they pulled no closer. Vaulet kept Michigan’s offense humming with another kill as the Wolverines mounted a 12-6 lead before the set caved in on Maryland.
Back-to-back aces out of a timeout by Morgan Burke highlighted Michigan’s second 8-0 run in as many frames, and Hannah Grant’s ace pushed the Wolverines ahead by double-digits. The Terps’ dormant offense offered little relief, hitting a horrid -0.027 in the stanza, a 25-14 drubbing that concluded Maryland’s latest underwhelming performance amid a season that continues to crumble.