Iowa ranks second worst in the Big Ten in blocks per set, yet Maryland volleyball team struggled at the net in its first meeting with the Hawkeyes this season.
In their straight set loss, the Terps' seven blocks matched Iowa's total. They also posted a meager .055 hitting percentage.
The players hoped to make an improvement at the net in their rematch with the Hawkeyes on Friday night. Behind a larger-than-usual home crowd at the Xfinity Center main gym, likely due to Maryland Madness happening a few hours later, they were excited to get another chance to beat their conference rivals.
Instead, Iowa (15-4, 5-2 Big Ten) outhit and out blocked Maryland (8-11, 0-7) in the Terps' straight set loss despite the stellar play of outside hitter Gia Milana.
"We were in those first two sets and had opportunities, but they just made two or three plays at the end," Aird said.
Milana, who has drawn praise for her play in the previous three matches from coach Steve Aird, notched 20 kills and made just five attacking errors. In her first meeting with Iowa, she recorded 12 kills and made nine attacking errors.
"[Milana] was the most highly touted recruit in the history of the program," Aird said. "She is obviously living up to her billing. She's a brave kid, she competes like crazy and she has the full arsenal of shots, which is something you don't often see from a young kid."
However, the Terps failed to find offensive balance against the Hawkeyes. No other player had more than five kills in the match.
"[Outside hitter Liz Twilley] doesn't usually hit negative," Aird said. "She had a really rough night. [Opposite hitter Angel Gaskin] also had a really rough night. When two of your three hitters have a bad night, it's obviously tough."
After dropping the first set, 25-23, Maryland jumped out to a 6-2 advantage in the second frame behind two kills each from Twilley and Milana. The Hawkeyes responded with a late 11-5 run that gave them set point at 24-21.
Milana looked at her teammates in the huddle before the match point and said, "We got this."
The Terps scored three straight points, but they went on to lose the set, 26-24. Iowa out-blocked Maryland 6-2 in the frame and overall notched 3.33 blocks per set despite averaging 1.87 per set this season.
In a must-win third set, Maryland started slow and fell behind, 11-7. The squad got within two points of the Hawkeyes but couldn't overcome that early deficit.
The loss marked the Terps' seventh Big Ten defeat to begin conference play. Last season, they dropped nine straight Big Ten matches before earning their first conference victory.
While Aird was disappointed with the result, he felt his young players handled themselves better than they did the last time they faced the Hawkeyes.
"Even though it's a home arena, it's a really big stage for kids who have never played," Aird said. "This was our second home match in the Big Ten this year… but I thought they competed well."