After struggling to find consistent hitting in Friday's tight win over Toledo – notching 26 errors while hitting below .200 in two sets – the Maryland volleyball team maintained a steady attack throughout its Saturday matches.
In straight-set wins over Virginia Tech and Marshall, pushing the Terps' record to 9-0, they hit .429 and .400, respectively. Maryland swept the Thunder Invitational, its third straight tournament to start the year.
"We're getting into our groove," setter Samantha Snyder said. "Having a really good first touch makes the offense quick and the ball's in the right spot at the right time for the right hitters. We tried to put on a show, that's what coach wants us to do."
In the first matchup, middle blocker Hailey Murray led with 14 kills, and outside hitter Erika Pritchard posted 14 in the second contest to pace the Terps.
Against the Hokies, strong middle play from Murray, Katie Myers and opposite hitter Angel Gaskin led an attack in which five Terps hit above .300 attacking clips. While Maryland is generally a strong blocking team, it didn't rack up the block numbers against the Hokies in the first two frames, recording just four.
Three of the blocks came during a narrow 25-22 first set victory, but throughout the match Virginia Tech struggled to find clean attacking lanes around jumping defenders. The net presence influenced the Hokies to hit under .200 for the match.
"This week, we really focused on the middle, being more loaded," Murray said. "We worked on it every day in practice this week and I think that helped a lot. … It's really helpful for a team to have good defense. I mean, we've always been good offensively, but to really bring the defensive part to our game this weekend really helped us."
After a 25-15 set win, in which the Terps hit .571 while holding the Hokies to .111, Maryland earned the sweep over Virginia Tech with a 25-22 third set win.
In the third frame, Maryland's net presence showed again. When Murray and outside/opposite hitter Samantha Drechsel combined for the sixth block of the match, putting the Terps up, 22-21, they let out a roar. When Virginia Tech called for a timeout and Drechsel resumed play with a solo block, that roar livened to the whole team as the Terps took five of the last six points of the frame.
Maryland found similar success against Marshall in the Thunder Invite finale. Marshall rested several starters, focusing on competing for a Conference USA title rather than a nonconference matchup, coach Steve Aird said.
"It's a little bit deceiving to think that we were incredible," Aird said after the sweep over Marshall. "They were doing what they had to do to manage their program."
When opposite hitter Angel Gaskin mishit a ball in the first set and landed awkwardly on her ankle, Aird decided to rest the Tampa, Florida, native too. Gaskin needed help from a trainer to leave the court, but walked unassisted postgame and should only need a day or two of rest.
The Terps hit .463 through the first two sets, establishing a comfortable 2-0 lead in the match. Pritchard paced the Terps with 11 kills and a .786 hitting percentage as the freshman chipped in an ace in each of the first two frames.
"It's really nice to know that from the end line can get into these mats that we hit every practice," Snyder said of the zones Aird instructs his team to aim for. "They're engraved in, hopefully, all of our brain's. So, it's nice to know someone can go back and hit a nice serve and put the other team out of system."
Pritchard posted a team-high five aces, including three in Maryland's 25-12 third set victory. Murray and Myers led the Terps' blocking efforts as the Terps finished with nine total.
Maryland finished its weekend with a .400 hitting percentage against Marshall, in which four Terps hit above .400. Meanwhile, the Thundering Herd was held to a .094 hitting clip. Libero Kelsey Wicinski finished the match with 12 digs, placing her at 999 career digs.
"We have a long way to go when it comes to being better technically," Aird said. "We have a lot more in us, but we start some of the youngsters and they're learning the systems."