After the Maryland volleyball team took an 8-2 first-set lead on Friday night, UMBC seemingly solved the Terps' net game. Instead of going for power with their hits, the Retrievers tapped shots over outstretched arms to find room on the floor.
When UMBC won the first set, 28-26, its players held their arms in the air and cheered. The Retrievers' bench partially cleared onto the court in celebration.
But Maryland coach Steve Aird stayed calm, clapped his hands as the teams swapped benches and waited for a turnaround. His young team, featuring 12 underclassmen, responded to their first test of the season to win, 3-1 (26-28, 25-17, 25-20, 25-18).
Freshman Erika Pritchard said Aird told them to keep it simple and mimic practice. His calm demeanor translated to on-court success.
"Oftentimes players match their coach's emotions," junior opposite hitter Angel Gaskin said. "Looking at him and knowing everything's okay helps you out a little bit."
After back-to-back top-25 recruiting classes, Aird's program has garnered increased attention. Despite a lack of recent success – the Terps' last winning season came in 2010 – a group of nationally recognized recruits has brought optimism to Xfinity Pavilion.
The new-look Terps flashed their promise Friday.
"I love the fact that they know that teams are going to come after them and teams are going to play," Aird said. "It's not time to get orange slices and your parents high-five you … People will beat you up left, right and center if you don't bring it."
Maryland finished with 14 total blocks, with middle blocker Hailey Murray leading the way with seven block assists. Junior opposite hitter Angel Gaskin set a career high with 14 kills, while freshman outside hitter Erika Pritchard notched 12 kills.
UMBC stormed back after trailing 8-2 in the first set, but 10 total errors from the Terps aided the response.
"It's just volleyball," Aird said. "Momentum flips and suddenly the building gets loud and freshmen get shaky and people make bad decisions and all of a sudden you're tied. We had a couple of chances late in the game to take control of it, but UMBC made great plays."
Despite struggles by the Terps in set one, freshman outside hitter Erika Pritchard led the team with five kills and a .500 hitting percentage.
In the second set, Pritchard added two kills and brought her dig total to eight. Junior opposite hitter Angel Gaskin posted seven kills in the first two sets.
It was Gaskin then who, after the Terps trailed most of the third set, took the lead for Maryland. She tied the frame at 19 with a powerful left-handed drive from the right side of the court before tipping a ball over two players at the net.
Sophomore outside hitter Gia Milana won the third set with her sixth kill of the contest.
After trailing by three points in the fourth set, an ace from junior libero Kelsey Wicinski retook the lead before Pritchard's smash into the corner forced UMBC to call for timeout.
Later, Wicinski climbed over Maryland's bench, with coaches shrinking into their seats, to save an errant dig. Milana dove to her left for a dig before Pritchard ended a string of four volleys between the teams for a kill.
"[Pritchard] was very poised to me," Gaskin said. "I didn't see her and think 'Oh, what a freshman.' I saw her and she seemed like an experienced player and she went out there with confidence I feel like. And she did her thing."
The Terps closed out with a 25-18 fourth-set win. Maryland held UMBC to a .094 hitting percentage in the match as the Retrievers accumulated 28 errors.
"We just had to fight back and defend our gym," Pritchard said. "Really stay mentally in it and support our teammates. Really fight through."