The Maryland volleyball team is 6-0 after completing an undefeated Liberty Invitational, including Saturday wins against Elon and Furman.
Against Elon, outside hitters Gia Milana and Erika Pritchard paced the Terps with 15 and 14 kills, respectively, while Pritchard added seven aces. Libero Kelsey Wicinski notching 22 digs, helping limit the Phoenix to a .094 match hitting percentage.
Opposite/outside hitter Samantha Drechsel and Pritchard both hit 13 kills in the afternoon win over Furman, while middle blocker Katie Myers led the team with a .636 hitting percentage with seven kills.
After Pritchard's solid weekend, posting at least 13 kills in all three victories, the freshman was named the tournament MVP. Any trepidation coach Steve Aird and his staff feared the young team's may have entering its first away tournament fell through.
"I know it was our first time traveling but it really wasn't anything different than the norm," Pritchard said. "It was just cool to experience our first time traveling, getting settled and having a good feel for everything. But it was fun, honestly."
Elon coach Mary Tendler called for a timeout in Saturday's first match when Maryland jumped to a 13-3 lead in the first set. The Terps were hitting .750 to counter the Phoenix's -.182.
Maryland also cut out the first set mistakes which allowed Liberty on Friday to narrow sets after big early leads. It finished set one without an error while hitting .684. The Terps held Elon, meanwhile, to a -.081 clip in the 25-11 opening frame victory.
Despite hitting .237 in the second set, six errors hampered Maryland's ability to pull away.
Elon tied the second frame at 23, forcing Aird to call a timeout. The Terps' execution after the break didn't go as the coach planned, though. Setter Taylor Smith opened the play with a ball handling error, gifting the Phoenix set point. Then, middle blocker Jada Gardner's effort found the net for an error, tying the match at one set each.
"We just had to fight back and have that grit," Pritchard said. "[Aird] wanted us to have that spice and edge to the team and flat out compete and do things well on our side."
While the Phoenix kept pressure on the Terps early in the third set, Maryland separated late to take the frame, 25-21.
"When things are good and we're in rhythm, we can be frightening," Aird said. "At times, we just make some young errors and let other teams string points together. And when we get a little more composed, and a little more experienced, we'll get better at that."
Elon led by as many as five points during the fourth set, but Phoenix errors turned the cards. The Terps embarked on a set-changing 12-0 run to take a 24-17 lead. But six of the 12 points came from Elon errors. Pritchard added five aces during a late stretch in the fourth set, to win the set, 25-19.
In the afternoon match Saturday, the Terps distanced themselves from the Paladins through dominance at the net. Myers and Milana combined for three straight blocks, and the cushion gained midway through the first set led to a 25-15 win.
While Maryland's traditional blocking game was limited against Liberty – the Terps notched just five blocks – they rebounded in Saturday's games. They posted nine blocks against Elon and 11 against Furman.
"The main thing that's been really helpful this year is blocking," Wicinski said. The junior finished each match this weekend with at least 20 digs. "I'm able to work around them to get more digs."
After a fast start to the second set, Gaskin rose up for a kill. Her effort hit the net and she waved her hands in apology at her teammates. Still, Aird called for a timeout to talk things over despite his team hitting at least .400 in the first and second frames. Maryland regrouped to take the set, 25-17.
Maryland's offensive cohesion stumbled in the third frame, though. Furman took the set, 25-18.
Like much of the season, after dropping the set, the Terps rebounded to seal the victory. Maryland rounded out its first road weekend with a 25-14 fourth set win.
"we did a lot of things well, there were just some points where we were just a little bit down and we weren't playing exactly Maryland volleyball," Wicinski said. "Although we were able to push through these games, we know that once we get to conference play, it's going to be a little bit harder and we're going to have to be a little bit more competitive."