Maryland volleyball sweeps Thunder Invite to remain unbeaten

Maryland volleyball
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By: Sean Montiel

Heading into the Thunder Invite, Maryland had a 6-0 record after sweeping both the Maryland Invitational and the Liberty Invitational. It was more of the same in Huntington, West Virginia.

The Terps took care of business, sweeping their three matches against Toledo, Virginia Tech, and Marshall.

Maryland opened up the tournament against the Toledo Rockets. For only the second time this season, the Terps had to go to five sets to secure a victory. Toledo dominated early and jumped out to a 19-7 lead in the first set. Gia Milana did her best to take the set, closing the deficit. Ultimately, they couldn’t get all the way back, as the Rockets finished it off 25-22.

Even after losing the set, Maryland’s run to close the gap gave them the momentum. They took the second set 25-13. Coming out of the half, Toledo took advantage of some sloppy play to take the set 25-16, giving the Rockets a 2-1 match lead.

Facing its first loss of the season, Maryland relied Milana to tie things up. She did just that, as her six kills in the fourth set led the team. Up 23-19, she closed it out with consecutive kills to even the match at two. The fifth set was back and forth, eventually drawing even, 12-12.

After an attack error by Toledo, Samantha Drechsel and Hailey Murray teamed up to block an attack. Another attack error by the Rockets ended the match as Maryland escaped with a win and its perfect record intact.

Maryland’s second match took place Saturday morning against Virginia Tech. Unlike Toledo, the Hokies couldn’t seriously challenge the Terps. Maryland won in straight sets: 25-22, 25-15, and 25-22.

Virginia Tech went up 13-11 in the first set, but the Terps went on a dominant run to take a 23-17 late. They didn’t close it out immediately, however, as their lead shrank to a single point. Hailey Murray then took over, notching a kill and a block (with help from Drechsel) to take the set.

In the second set, the Hokies took a 3-1 lead before a kill from Angel Gaskin and then another from Murray tied it. The Terps would not lose that lead, as they would go on a run to win by 10. After the break, Virginia Tech got out to a 9-5 lead early and held a 21-20 lead late. Gia Milana tied it, and Hailey Murray had back-to-back kills to take the set and the match.

The third and final match of the tournament was against the hosting Marshall Thundering Herd. This time, it was Erika Pritchard who led the Terps, who won in straight sets for the second consecutive match. They defeated Marshall by scores of 25-18, 25-14, 25-12.

As it did in each of the three sets, Marshall took a 1-0 lead. It wasn’t indicative of its success, however, as Maryland tied it immediately and took the lead. Marshall wouldn’t so much as tie things up in the set, as the Terps took leads of 15-7 and 19-11 before closing it out.

In the second, Jada Gardner broke a 3-3 tie to take the lead and send the team on a 13-3 run that put them up 16-6. Erika Pritchard’s serve put them up 20-9 before she closed things out with two kills. In the final set of the match, Pritchard continued to wreak havoc on the serve, carrying the Terps on a 6-0 run. Maryland found themselves up 24-12 before Gia Milana closed things out.

After winning the Thunder Invite, Maryland is now 9-0. It continues to get contributions from all over, but it has been consistently led by three tremendous attackers. Against Toledo, it was Gia Milana, then Hailey Murray against Virginia Tech and finally Erika Pritchard against Marshall. Together, they posted 109 kills across the three matches. Pritchard led with a team-high with 41.

It’s not only those three on the attack. Angel Gaskin had 16 kills in the tournament, Samantha Drechsel had 14 and Katie Myers had 12. These attackers can’t do it themselves, as they need to be set up for opportunities. Samantha Snyder and Taylor Smith continue to pad their assist totals, adding 72 and 52, respectively.

Defensively, libero Kelsey Wicinski continues to sit atop the Big Ten leaderboard in digs. Throughout the weekend, she had 40 digs, including 20 against Toledo. Milana, Pritchard and Smith have also shown their ability to play both ways, as each of them contributed at least 18 digs.

Next weekend is the Maryland Challenge. The Terps will be tested, as they’re hosting some very good volleyball teams. They’ll welcome the Washington Huskies (8-1), the Oklahoma Sooners (3-5) and the USC Trojans (7-2).

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