By Sean Montiel
Maryland entered Friday night coming off their best win of the season: a five-set thriller against No. 17 Purdue. Its reward? A four-game stretch against top 10 teams, all on the road. The first opponent, the No. 5 Minnesota Golden Gophers, welcomed them into Minneapolis having won nine in a row.
While Minnesota is ranked No. 5 in the AVCA Coaches Poll, they are actually the second best team in the country according to RPI. This posed a big challenge for the young Terps, and that showed; they were swept 25-23, 25-23, and 25-21, but they weren’t outclassed. They held their own against one of the best teams in the country, which shows the potential of this team.
Both teams started off strong on offense, consistently getting good looks on the attack and capitalizing for kills. Minnesota grabbed a 7-4 lead early, but consecutive kills from freshmen Erika Pritchard, Samantha Drechsel, and Jada Gardner tied things up. Six ties in the early going characterized the set, as both teams fought back and forth.
Eventually, Minnesota pulled away, extending the lead to five at 20-15. But as this Terps squad has shown all season, they’re resilient with their backs against the wall. Sophomore Gia Milana had two late kills to cut the deficit to one before Jasmyn Martin closed it out.
In the second, it was more of the same back and forth that the first set saw. Although this time, the Terps took a lead late. Back-to-back attack errors by Alexis Hart gave Maryland a 19-18 lead, but Minnesota’s playmakers showed up in big spots.
Stephanie Samedy, the star of the night with a match-high 18 kills at an impressive .471 clip, had three kills to tie the score and take the lead. Jada Gardner had a chance to tie the set, but her error gave the second set to the Gophers.
The third was more lopsided than the score indicates, as Minnesota saw their biggest lead of the night of six multiple times throughout the set. Maryland fought to get back into it, as Milana and sophomore Hailey Murray teamed up to cut the score to 22-21. However, errors (which have become something of a staple of this team) proved to be their downfall. It was Milana and Pritchard with consecutive mistakes to lose the match.
The final match score of 3-0 could be misleading. These teams played similarly throughout, as evidenced by the final stats. Minnesota hit .232, while the Terps hit .222. That’s not the only stat that was close. Kills, errors, assists and digs were all neck and neck, which proves that Maryland is capable of playing close games with the best of the best.
For them, there were no surprises atop the leaderboards. As it’s been all season, sophomore Gia Milana and freshman Erika Pritchard led the offense with 14 kills and 10 kills, respectively. The more time these two play together, the better they become. It’s been a steady growth for the underclassmen, one that has coach Steve Aird excited about their future in the program.
Hailey Murray maintained her incredible efficiency in this one, as she tallied 7 kills on a .500 hit percentage. Sam Snyder and Abby Bentz facilitated the ball well to the outside hitters; together, they totaled 34 assists. On the defensive side, it was actually Milana who led in digs with 11, giving her another double-double on the year.
Maryland’s schedule doesn’t let up. On Saturday, it will travel to Madison to face the eighth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers. In the following week, road matchups with No. 7 Nebraska and No. 1 Penn State will be on the slate. If the Terps can continue to play at this level, they have the chance to pull of a big upset and secure a spot in the NCAA tournament.