By Lila Bromberg
After losing four straight, the Maryland Terrapins regained their stride in a 3-1 takedown of the Iowa Hawkeyes.
The Terps returned to Xfinity Center Pavilion on Friday after their toughest road trip of the season — four games against four top 15 teams. They lost 3-0 to No .4 Minnesota, 3-1 to No. 13 Wisconsin, 3-0 to No. 6 Nebraska and 3-0 to No. 1 Penn State.
The match promised to be interesting from the start, with Maryland and Iowa neck and neck in both the NCAA rankings and Big Ten standings. Maryland is ranked No. 46 and 5-11 in the Big Ten, with Iowa at No. 45 and 6-10 in conference. Every game is crucial to Maryland staying tournament eligible for the NCAA Tournament.
Maryland started off the first set down 2-0, but wouldn’t stay down for long. Two straight points on the board and Maryland was tied and ready to run away with the set. Soon the Terrapins were up with a solid lead of 7-3. Each kill built upon the next, with strong performances across the board.
Maryland’s momentum slowed down slightly toward the end of the set and things started to get a little too close to comfort, but two timeouts by Steve Aird allowed the team to recollect itself. The Terrapins won the set 25-21 on a service ace by senior Hailey Murray.
The second set was extremely close from the start. Each point was drawn out and both teams battled for every one.
Maryland pulled away toward the end of the set to win it. Maryland turned a 17-17 ties into 20-17 on a strong kill by Murray and sailed from there to win the set 25-19.
The third set presented the biggest challenge for Maryland throughout the matchup. The Terrapins were down 6-11 halfway into the third set, but were able to mount a comeback to ties the game at 13-13.
Maryland led for most of the second half of the set, up by as much as 23-19 toward the end, but couldn’t finish. It was set and match point at 24-22 and the Terrapins just couldn’t capitalize and lost it 24-26. The final point was challenge by Steve Aird, but the original call was confirmed and Iowa took the set.
“I thought it was a gutsy effort, especially when we had a swing to win the match in the third game. You know I thought we had opportunities to win in game three,” Aird said. “I told the team, ‘If you want to be relevant against really good teams then you’ve got to be able to close the door, so that really got my attention.’”
Despite the devastation of losing the third set, Maryland came out to the fourth set determined to win the match.
The fourth set remained close throughout its entirety, but was clinched by Maryland 25-18 on a kill by Samantha Drechsel.
“I’m proud of the team, especially for hanging in there and coming back in game four,” Aird said.
While Milana lead in kills with 19 and the competition certainly was close, the highlight of the match was the play of senior Hailey Murray.
Murray had a season-best five service aces, as well as a .412 percentage, nine kills, two digs and four blocks.
“I think it’s something that I’ve had to work on and I think I come into practice every day and I serve before practice and I serve after practice,” Murray said. “And I did that every single day this week and the work paid off.”
“I was with Hailey pretty emotional with after the match,” Aird said. “I’m just so proud of that kid, she’s worked and worked and worked, and to have had a match like this when we needed a match like this from her was awesome.”
Maryland is currently ranked at 46, making them tournament eligible, but every game from this point forward is crucial to keeping that spot.
The win brings Maryland one step closer to an NCAA Tournament berth. But Aird says that isn’t his focus at the moment.
“I think there’s people way smarter than me that figure that out…I mean I’m worried about Nebraska now,” Aird said. “I mean I’m happy for the kids. I think it obviously helps the chances because Iowa is a good team and their RPI was higher than ours and all that stuff, but there’s a whole bunch of really smart people in a room with a whole bunch of numbers and I’m trying to win the next match.”
Looking to continue on positive momentum from their win tonight, the Terrapins will face No. 5 Nebraska Saturday, Nov. 18 in game three of their four game homestand to end the regular season.
Though Aird knows it will be a tough one, especially after the team fell 3-0 to Nebraska on Nov. 8.
“There’s probably no game plan that’s going to work because they’re trying to win a national championship and they’re probably going to win the Big Ten,” he said.
“They should sweep us. They should do what they do. And we don’t have a lot of answers if they’re playing well. But for young kids, for me, it’s more about competing, keep working on the technical stuff we’re trying to work on, and if we play really hard and we play brave that’s what I’m interested in.”