By Eric Myers
During the first set, with the match deadlocked at 18, a visibly frustrated head coach Steve Aird emphatically called a timeout and pulled sophomore Gia Milana aside for a heated one-on-one coaching moment after two consecutive Milana attacks went directly into the defense’s blocks.
The sophomore had her chance to redeem herself after Maryland earned a sideout, putting Milana at the service line. During the ensuing 3-0 run, Milana boomed a service ace over the net, prompting a Purdue timeout. When the team came to the bench and huddled, Aird cut through the huddle, seeking out Milana for an emphatic high five.
Maryland (16-8, 5-7) was able to parlay this type of intensity and energy from its coach into success on the court, as it knocked off no. 17 Purdue (17-6, 7-5) after five exciting sets on Sunday afternoon at the Xfinity Center Pavilion. With its 16th victory of the season, Maryland becomes eligible for the NCAA tournament, as it attempts to end a tournament drought that dates back to 2005.
Aird and Milana have what is described as a tough love relationship and Milana praised his ability to know exactly how to react in certain situations, giving her the right feedback she needs to hear.
“He told me what I needed to hear– he told me what I deserved to hear,” Milana said. “He’s just so smart, and he knows what to do at the right time.”
It was a back and forth affair from the opening serve, as both teams continuously answered their opponent’s run with one of their own. Maryland took the first set after the aforementioned 3-0 run sparked them to a 25-23 win, despite six service errors.
In the second set, Maryland had to battle back after Purdue scored three of the first four points. Using multiple scoring runs, including a 7-2 spurt after trailing 18-12, Maryland pulled within a point at 20-19. During this set, however, the Terrapins were unable to overcome their seven serving miscues and the Boilermakers won 25-23.
With the match tied at one set apiece coming out of the break, Maryland raced out to a 4-1 lead. After Purdue threatened to tie the match at eight, Maryland scored the next six points to claim a 14-6 advantage. Despite a late Boilermaker comeback attempt, the Terrapins held on for a 25-21 set victory to come within one set of the completing the upset.
With Purdue needing a win to stay alive in the match, it jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the early stages of the set. Maryland responded with a five to nothing run, after trailing 8-6, to claim an 11-8 lead. The two teams traded points after being tied at 21. The match was eventually extended past the 25 point barrier before Purdue won 27-25.
In a thrilling fifth set, Maryland had its back against the wall early when it fell behind 8-4.
“That fifth set, starting off, we were a little shaky,” freshman Samantha Drechsel said. “Being down in the first part of the game, we really had to gather ourselves emotionally, and play together as a team.”
After the two sides changed sides, the Terrapins reeled off seven of the next 10 points to tie the deciding fifth set at 11. Purdue threatened to end the match when hey took a 14-13 advantage on an Erika Pritchard attacking error. As Purdue needed just one point to close out the match, its service went awry, extending the match. Maryland would close out the win with a 17-15 victory after kills from Pritchard and Gardner.
The Terrapins utilized a multifaceted attack, with six players with more than 10 attacking attempts. The hitters and middle blockers executed its attempts with a .351 hitting percentage. Led by Pritchard (18 kills, .354 hitting percentage) and Drechsel (13 kills, .429 hitting percentage), Maryland was able to keep pace with the lethal Purdue attack, who came into today’s match ranked fourth in the nation in hitting percentage.
Even with its newly obtained eligibility, Maryland is not guaranteed a tournament berth. It will attempt to further build its resume over the last eight games of the season, starting with a daunting four game road trip.
“I feel like this [win] is another step forward,” Aird said. “But I’m staring down the barrel at four matches that if you don’t play great, you’re going to get swept in an hour. You just don’t have the luxury of popping champagne like you’ve arrived.”