Led by their hitters, the Terps win their first game of the Maryland Invitational
With Maryland volleyball holding a 2-1 set advantage overall and an 18-17 lead in the fourth set over the Virginia Cavaliers, the Terps’ hitters came through at the net just like they did all evening.
Maryland was in the midst of a long rally against Virginia and then an innocent free ball traveled over the net and into the Terps’ possession. The ball eventually found its way to sophomore outside hitter Sam Csire, who executed a perfectly hit ball over the Cavaliers’ block attempt toward the left side of the court to give Maryland the crucial point late in the game.
Maryland finished the job after Csire’s crucial kill and never looked back from that point on. Built off its consistent play at the net from Csire and from its other hitters and middle blockers, Maryland was able to come away with a four-set victory (25-21, 23-25, 25-19, 25-22) over Virginia to improve to 1-0 on the new season.
“Looking at it as a whole, it’s probably my favorite win here at Maryland,” head coach Adam Hughes said after the game. “Those last two sets, I felt like we were kind of in control and never kind of let up, never really kind of put ourselves in a negative spot where we put too much pressure on ourselves.”
Maryland’s win against Virginia to kick off the Maryland invitational was its first non-conference game since September 2019. The Terps have two games left on its invitational slate with games against Hofstra and Central Connecticut State on Saturday.
After winning just five of 20 games during a coronavirus-impacted season, Maryland kicked off the opening point with a bang from freshman outside hitter Erin Morrissey, who rocketed a thunderous ball into Virginia’s court for a kill to bring early life to a Maryland squad that’s trying to find its identity within a tough Big Ten conference.
Morrissey went down with a lower-body injury on just the second point, but her early kill set the Terps’ tone and the team’s energy was visible in the first set. Maryland hung around in the first set with a 7-7 score and erupted after every point won, but Virginia rattled off five of the next six points to take a four-point lead.
The strong hitting presence of both middle blockers Laila Ricks, Cara Lewis and Rainelle Jones kept the Terps alive in the opening frame and it immediately sparked Maryland as a whole. With the score at 18-15 in Virginia’s favor, Maryland clawed back to get the game knotted at 20-20. The Terps rallied off the crowd’s energy and received a standing ovation after winning five of the next six points, which included a loud set-winning block from Jones to give Maryland a 1-0 lead.
The second set initially saw much of the same from Maryland’s blockers, who seemed to be up to the challenge and contested every Virginia spike. The Cavaliers jumped out to an early 9-7 lead, much like the first set in which the Terps came back and won. Another dominant net presence, the 6’0 Csire, came alive as well, as she combined for five kills and five digs up to the point where the game was tied at 12 in the second set.
Despite its consistent blocking and hitting, Maryland conceded three straight points late in the set to trail 19-16, a deficit it couldn’t overcome. Virginia grabbed the second set by a score of 25-23 to tie the match at one set apiece.
Through two sets, Maryland was out-blocking and out-attacking Virginia statistically, even though it remained tied 1-1 in sets. The Terps were hitting at a 20% success rate compared to the Cavaliers’ 16.7% clip, while Maryland also accumulated three more blocks upfront than its counterpart.
Maryland stayed true to its consistent presence at the net and jump-started its third set with three kills out of the first five points to take a 5-0 lead. The Terps used a friendly combination of hitting and blocking to maintain their lead. Graduate student middle blocker Hannah Thompson kept the Terps’ hitters’ reputation up as she smashed a critical back set to the left side of Virginia’s court to give Maryland a 16-13 advantage.
Graduate student outside hitter Paula Neciporuka and Ricks soon after went back-to-back with kills, which propelled Maryland to a 20-19 lead late in the third set. Csire then fired off a kill of her own, her team-leading ninth kill of the day, and Maryland went on to capture the third set, 25-19 to lead 2-1 overall in the match.
Maryland and Virginia once again went back-and-forth in the early stages of the fourth set, with the Cavaliers holding a slim 9-8 advantage with the game on the line.
Jones soon after helped the Terps get on a run and provided a monstrous block at the net to gift Maryland a three-point lead with a 13-10 margin. Maryland and Virginia remained neck-and-neck late in the set until Csire had a crucial kill to seal the game and gave Maryland a 19-17 lead.
The Terps received a standing ovation with a 24-22 advantage while facing a Virginia serve, and then swiftly closed out the Cavaliers to capture their first win of the season.
“For a young group that’s a gutty win, it’s a gritty win,” Hughes said. “And, you know, just obviously happy to start 1-0.”
Three things to know
1. Maryland got the best of Virginia on defense. Even though the team’s highlights primarily had to do with its strong hitting, Maryland’s digging shouldn’t go unnoticed. The Terps finished with 60 digs, nine more than the Cavaliers over the course of the match. Maryland’s libero Milan Gomillion was a positive force on her team’s defensive efforts, digging 25 balls in total.
“Before I went out I was really nervous,” Gomillion said after her first career start. “I was confident and I was really proud of what I did.”
2. Csire and Neciporuka dominated at the net. Plenty of Maryland’s hitters had a solid day against Virginia, but Csire and Neciporuka performed on an elite level compared to their teammates. Csire was the most consistent hitter and she finished with 13 kills and a .250 hitting percentage. Neciporuka, on the other hand, also exhibited her abilities in the season opener. She totaled 11 kills and had two blocks as well.
3. The College Park crowd certainly brought the energy for Maryland’s first home game. After a season in which the Maryland volleyball program struggled with just five wins in 20 games, the Terps’ crowd was buzzing right from the get-go. The players visibly fed off the venue’s cheers, which led to a more energized Maryland squad against Virginia. The Terps finished every victorious point with an eruption from the crowd, a welcomed sight after a fairly quiet era from the absent fans during the COVID-19 pandemic last season.
“Playing in front of family and friends, I would say the atmosphere is always great,” Gomillion said of the atmosphere. “I loved it so much.”