Maryland attack shows promise, ultimately falls 3-0 to No. 3 Wisconsin

(Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics)

After taking down a top three Wisconsin side in its previous meeting, Maryland could not replicate last year’s magic, falling in straight sets to the No. 3 Badgers on Saturday night at the UW Field House.

The Terps’ strong set-one performance put them in line for another upset bid. For the second time in as many nights, Maryland faced a top-10 team on the road and fell into an early 6-2 hole. This time, however, the Terps responded with a 4-1 run of their own.   

The two teams showed shades of last year’s competitive first set, which featured 13 ties and four lead changes. After the Terps cut the Badgers’ lead to 13-10, neither side led by more than three points through the rest of the opening set.  

Following Friday night’s two-kill performance, Sam Csire bounced back to help the Terps keep pace with the defending national champions. The outside hitter reeled off six kills in set one as the Terps put on a hitting clinic through the opening third of the match. Against a Wisconsin squad holding opponents to a .152 hitting percentage, ninth best in the nation, Maryland hit .282, well above its .211 season average. 

Ultimately, it was the team’s defense that impressed coach Adam Hughes the most in set one, calling the team’s defensive pursuit “phenomenal.”

“People were flying around, making some plays and taking some big swings,” he said. 

Hughes used his allotted challenges to the Terps advantage in the first set, challenging three points and winning two of them. Late in the set, a double block from the duo of Gem Grimshaw and Anastasia Russ enabled the Terps to even the score at 22. 

Then came a crucial three-point swing that shifted the match’s momentum in the Badgers’ favor. Wisconsin’s Sarah Franklin registered a kill before the Terps service game cost them the set. Back-to-back service errors resulted in a 25-22 set one victory for the Badgers.

The Terps came out strong in the second set and jumped out to a 5-4 lead thanks to kills from Russ, Csire, Grimshaw and Laila Ricks, who made her return after a three-game absence due to injury. 

Highlighted by a mid-set 7-1 run and four kills from reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Julia Orzol, Wisconsin took a 16-9 set two lead. The nation’s number three team seized the momentum, closing out the set on a 5-0 run and securing a 25-15 second set victory. 

Orzol and sophomore Anna Smrek combined for 40% of Wisconsin’s kills in set two, lifting the team to an incredible .545 hitting percentage in the match’s middle set. The Badgers’ crisp passing enabled its pin hitters and middle blockers to excel, keeping Maryland’s blockers from committing to either side of the floor. 

For the match, the Badgers hit .345, the team’s best hitting performance of the season. The Terps held Wisconsin to just under a .200 clip in last season’s five-set thriller.

“The fact that our passers are able to push the ball up so often, we got four attackers coming at you and you are going to have to make some decisions,” Wisconsin setter Izzy Ashburn said. “That’s hard to defend against even if you are one of the top blocking teams.”

After Maryland’s front line excelled in last year’s contest with 15 blocks, the nation’s best blocking team totaled only one block in the entire second set and six in Saturday’s match.

“I think the one thing that makes them [Wisconsin] really special is that the middles can score and that they can hold your attention outside and beat you from left and right,” Hughes said. 

Three early kills from Csire in set three allowed Maryland to keep pace with Wisconsin. Wisconsin jumped out to a 9-6 lead but the Terps responded with a 4-0 run backed by two Erin Morrissey kills. Just as they did in set two, Wisconsin engineered a seven-point run and never looked back. 

As part of the 7-0 run, Orzol and fifth-year senior Danielle Hart combined for four kills to propel Wisconsin to a 17-10 lead. The Terps fought back and forced four errors to cut the deficit to 20-17 before Wisconsin finished off the Terps with a 5-1 run, taking the third set 25-18.  

The Badgers earned the win on Senior Day and extended both its win streak and home win streak to 14 matches while handing Maryland its fourth consecutive loss on the road. 

Franklin, Hart and Orzol led the Badgers with 10 kills apiece while Csire led all players with 12. The Terps’ aggressiveness hindered its upset bid. While the Terps tallied more kills on Saturday than in its five set win against Wisconsin, it committed only one less attack error. The Terps also struggled on serve, allowing four aces and tallying none themselves. Maryland had six in the teams’ last meeting.

As the Terps round out a tough five-match stretch that includes four matches against top 10 programs, the Terps fifth-year head coach and former Penn State assistant has become accustomed to the grueling Big Ten schedule.

“I think one thing that’s been nice being in the conference for so long is that it does kind of just wash off,” he said. “That’s why they chose us to play in the Big Ten. Ohio State is having a great season and they are in the hunt for a Big Ten championship and we’re expecting their best fight.”

The Terps play host to the No. 6 Buckeyes on Friday night while the Badgers head to the east coast and will take on Rutgers on Friday.