By Sean Montiel
The Maryland volleyball team entered its regular season finale with doubts as to whether it’d be traveling for the NCAA Tournament. With 17 wins before Friday’s tilt, it was assumed that Steve Aird’s team needed one more win to get a postseason berth. Against Northwestern the Terps would grab that coveted 18th victory, sweeping the Wildcats 25-23, 25-22, 25-13.
Northwestern got on the board first with a Danyelle Williams kill, which helped it get out to a few early leads. When Maryland was down 6-5, Abby Bentz set up Erika Pritchard for an attack opportunity that the freshman capitalized. That point was immediately followed up by back-to-back Samantha Snyder aces, and the Terps started to pull away.
Some good offense from the Wildcats, along with two Samantha Drechsel attack errors, allowed them to cut the deficit to one point. With the score 22-21, Gia Milana showed her talent with a big kill to stop the run and get the Terps back on the board. The teams went back-and-forth and, at set point, Pritchard came through again to take the first.
Just like the set prior, the second set found Northwestern in front early. This time around, it took its lead deep into the set. Up 17-11 after an Alana Walker kill, it seemed that the match would be tied at one entering the halftime break.
But as it had done all season, Maryland fought back hard to make things interesting. Milana and Pritchard each had two kills, with Pritchard’s tying the score. An error from the Wildcats gave the lead back to the home team, and just a few points later, an error gave the set to Maryland.
Coming out of halftime, it was evident that the Terps were on a mission to complete a sweep in what could be their last match of the season. Hailey Murray contributed a couple service aces as well as a few kills to really put this match away. To close out this set it was the defense who came up with the winning point. Erika Pritchard jumped up for a match-winning block, and when she came down her team was victorious.
The story of the night was Maryland’s dominant offensive showing. As a team, they hit an unbelievable .432 with contributions coming from all over. Erika Pritchard led the way with 15 kills (at a .500 clip), but Milana had 11 and Drechsel, Murray, Jada Gardner and Angel Gaskin combined for 19 at very efficient rates.
Maryland (18-14) needed this win to add to its resume for the tournament committee. Northwestern (14-18) isn’t exactly a marquee victory, but any chance you have to beat a Big Ten opponent is important. This team is young and has a lot of fire within it, and it would be interesting to see how the Terps play in a do-or-die situation. Whether or not they’ll get that opportunity will be seen on Sunday night’s selection show.