Maryland volleyball had just rallied to tie the third set against Michigan State when Ally Williams’ service error gave the Spartans a 21-20 lead.
Four different Terps attempted spikes throughout the set’s final rallies as Maryland tried to slug its way back — none of them landed a critical kill. Michigan State burned the Terps for their serving blunder. The Spartans scored the next three points and held on to win 25-22, handing Maryland a straight-set loss Friday in East Lansing.
The disastrous sequence merged the two culprits behind the Terps’ nightmarish weekend. Against the Spartans, their service errors triggered costly scoring runs that Maryland couldn’t overcome. Two days later against Michigan, the Terps failed to deliver pivotal putaways in high-leverage situations.
Maryland’s inconsistency fueled the only thing constant throughout its weekend: defeat. The Terps followed their 3-0 loss at Michigan State with another straight-set defeat at Michigan on Sunday, which dropped Maryland to 5-9 in Big Ten play.
“It’s pretty tough when we’re up by a lot or they go on a momentum run to get that momentum back,” setter Sydney Dowler said Sunday. “We have to do a little bit better job of resetting mentally.”
Each set in Friday’s loss played out similarly — a service error relinquished any control the Terps had in the frame.
Maryland led 8-6 in the first set before Dowler’s off-target serve let Michigan State rattle off the next six points. That run grew to a 13-1 surge, which put the set out of reach as the Terps fell behind 1-0.
The Spartans capitalized on Sam Csire’s errant serve in the second set to score six straight points and pull even at nine apiece. Michigan State exploited Maryland’s shaky serve receive to build another commanding lead.
Karolina Staniszewska zipped two serves past the Terps before fooling Maryland with an off-speed offering for an ace to cap the Spartans’ 14-2 run. The Terps never pulled closer than four points and dropped their second-straight set.
“When you get on a service run like that, that’s the difference between winning and losing matches,” coach Adam Hughes said.
Maryland prevented its first two service errors of the third frame from letting the set spiral out of control, but Williams’ misfire helped Michigan State collect a cluster of key points as the Terps’ offense faltered late en route to their 3-0 loss.
Hughes said after Friday’s match somebody needed to lead Maryland’s attack through those tense late-set rallies. He anticipated more of those against the Wolverines — Sunday’s first frame delivered.
The Terps weathered a back-and-forth set to build a 22-20 lead and had multiple attackers capable of helping them win the frame. Csire and Samantha Schnitta already had four kills each, while Sydney Bryant chipped in three putaways off the bench.
Hughes kept Bryant and Csire on the court. Both attacked, but neither succeeded.
The Wolverines capitalized on a floundering Terps attack, which never looked in sync and produced zero kills throughout the set’s final seven points, to win 25-22.
“That’s our battle right now — trying to either win the serve and pass to be in-system a lot more, or finding someone who’s going to be able to score us out of trouble,” Hughes said.
The ensuing frame offered Maryland another chance to prevail in a close set. Bryant’s kill trimmed the Terps’ deficit to 20-19, but she and the rest of Maryland’s offense found few chances to overtake the Wolverines as Michigan tormented the Terps from behind the endline.
Morgan Burke and Valentina Vaulet combined for four serves in the set’s closing stages — Maryland only generated one of those into a formidable attack.
Vaulet’s aggressive line-drives gave the Terps particular trouble. Maryland barely managed to send the ball back over to the Wolverines, who easily set up in-rhythm attacks. Michigan clubbed the last four kills of the set to win by five.
“That’s probably the biggest challenge we faced this weekend,” Hughes said of the Terps’ inefficient serve receive and passing.
An 11-1 Wolverine run in the third set prevented Hughes’ squad from atoning for their previous two meltdowns.
Maryland’s inconsistent offense wasn’t new — it’s an issue that has plagued the Terps throughout Big Ten play. But the service errors that compounded into critical scoring runs Friday represented an additional challenge amid Maryland’s swoon. The Terps have lost seven of nine since upsetting then-No. 16 Minnesota on Oct. 6.
Maryland’s final six games offer little relief — half of them are against teams that have already beaten the Terps this year. The team’s opportunity for an NCAA tournament berth is fading as its offense’s inconsistency prevails, but Hughes knows his squad has to embrace the challenges that lay ahead.
“Pressure is a privilege,” Hughes said. “We’ve got to accept that.”