Maryland volleyball falls just short to Northwestern in five set thriller

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

The third set was coming down to the wire. The once dominant Northwestern lead was completely diminished. The momentum was in Maryland’s favor. That all changed after a thunderous spike hit star Libero Milan Gomillion square in the face. The once roaring crowd fell completely silent as she lay on the ground. A visibly distraught Maryland side would go on to lose the set, and later the match.

Following a tough four-match stretch during which they went 1-3, the Terps were set for a go against a team who, although unranked, are intimidating in their own right. Maryland volleyball ultimately lost in five sets, extending their midseason losing streak to four.

The head of Northwestern’s ruthless attack, and the biggest threat to Maryland’s defense Friday night, was Temi Thomas-Ailara, an outside hitter who Coach Adam Hughes called one of the best attackers in the country.

“Temi Thomas is one of the most physical players there is,” Coach Hughes said before the match. “We’ll have our hands full.”

The first set played out like a pendulum, shifting the momentum back and forth.

At first, there was no distinct frontrunner. That all changed when Maryland went on a 7-1 run to lead 17-13. Following a Northwestern time-out, it was the Wildcats who took control. They scored seven straight and retook the lead, 20-17. 

Following a Maryland timeout, the momentum shifted back in UMD’s favor. The Terrapins scored four unanswered, taking back the lead 21-20.

Finally, the pendulum swung one last time in Northwestern’s favor. The Wildcats scored four unanswered points of their own. Despite a last ditch effort by Maryland where they were able to score twice, a Sam Csire attack flew behind everyone’s heads, out of bounds. The first set concluded with a close, 25-23, Northwestern victory.

Northwestern stayed hot heading into the second set. The Cats stormed into an early 7-4 lead. That, however, was when their good fortune for the set stopped. Maryland blossomed the rest of the way, scoring 21 points to Northwestern’s lifeless 12. The set ended in a 25-19 Terrapins victory, tying the set at one apiece. 

At the start of the third set, it was once again Northwestern who came out the gate strong. A 12-6 lead gave the Wildcats a six-point cushion, but following a 6-1 Maryland run, it looked as if a repeat of set two was in the works. The Wildcats went on a 5-1 run immediately after, squashing the augury and giving Northwestern an 18-13 lead.

Down 23-19, it seemed as if all hope was lost for the Terrapins, but after a miraculous 4-point run from Maryland tied up the game at 23 apiece.

However, if the momentum was on Maryland’s side, it left right after once Gomillion had to leave the game due to an injury. She did not return. Kaylee Thomas would take over in her absence for the rest of the match.

Despite having big shoes to fill, Coach Adam Hughes was impressed with the way Thomas was able to play in place of Gomillion.

“I thought [Kaylee] did a really good job coming off the bat,” Coach Hughes said. “She’s always been a serving sub for us but she did a good job solidifying us at right back.”

Following the star’s injury, a visibly frantic Maryland side could not recover. Much like the first set, a Sam Csire attack error gifted Northwestern the victory by the score of 25-23.

Set four drew a lot of similarities to the second set. Following Northwestern’s hot 7-2 start, it was Maryland who dominated the rest of the way. The Terrapins thrashed the Wildcats, scoring 23 in the same time it took Northwestern to earn an abysmal nine. Maryland easily won the set 25-16, forcing the third-straight set five on their home court.

In a climactic fifth set, it was close to the bitter end. No team led by more than two points. Following a 14-14 tie, a Paula Neciporuka kill put the Terrapins in prime position to win the match. The next play, an attack error was called on Neciporuka. The play could have won Maryland the match if it were overturned, but after deliberation and an upheld call it instead gave Northwestern new life.

The Wildcats took advantage and never looked back. A Thomas-Ailara kill made it official: Northwestern would leave with the win.

Following the challenging loss, OH Hannah Thompson spoke on what the team could have done to prevent the loss.

“We could have just taken more risks more towards the end,” said Thompson. “Just being a little bit more aggressive and hitting our shots.”

Maryland will have no time to rest as they will be back in action on Saturday as they face Indiana at home.

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