Penn State volleyball wasn't up to its usual standards against Maryland.
The No. 1-ranked Nittany Lions — who entered Saturday's match leading the country with a .354 hitting percentage — hit nearly 100 points below that through three sets, and they notched three fewer kills than the Terps.
But Maryland's miscues helped the top team in the nation onward to a straight-sets victory (14-25, 21-25, 16-25) at Rec Hall.
"The gap between them and us is just really big," coach Steve Aird said. "But I wasn't disappointed with how hard we played. That was the one thing, the only thing, that would've disappointed me tonight."
The Terps ended their four-match stretch against top-10 foes on the back foot. The gauntlet began two weekends ago against then-No. 5 Minnesota, in which Maryland dropped three sets by a combined eight points. It ended with sweeps against then-No. 6 Nebraska and Penn State.
Outside hitter Gia Milana led the Terps with 14 kills and a .333 hitting percentage. The Nittany Lions' win streak extended to 15 matches on the back of outside hitter Simone Lee's 10-kill, 13-dig performance. Penn State finished with 13 blocks, while Maryland tallied 11 service errors and 29 attack errors.
"They're [6-foot-3], really, really good at reading [attacks]," outside hitter Erika Pritchard said. "It was a challenge to get through the block. We had to run our tempo faster, our offense faster, to get through the block."
Five service errors during the first set distanced the Terps from the Nittany Lions, despite Maryland hitting above .200 early in the frame. The Terps' attacking clip would fall to just .067 as they helped Penn State to a 6-0 run to close the first-set victory.
After Aird called for a timeout with Maryland (16-12, 5-11 Big Ten) trailing 20-14, his squad closed the frame with four attack errors and a ball handling error. Opposite hitter Angel Gaskin started the skid with an attempted free ball placed into the net, and setter Abigail Bentz concluded it with a double contact violation. It handed over the first game to a Nittany Lions team that has dropped just three sets at home this season.
"Obviously, you you don't want to have it happen," Aird said. "You have a game plan coming out of a timeout and sometimes the other team's better."
Aird called for another stoppage with Penn State (25-1, 15-1) ahead 20-15 in set two, but instead of the miscues that imploded the Terps' first-frame chances, Milana resumed play with two kills. While Maryland dropped the frame, the team's attack showed improvement at the end of the set.
Before exiting the floor for the second-set stoppage, Maryland's starters huddled by the net.
"We just said, 'Hey, if we play like we just did in the last 10, 15 points, we would've been a lot more closer with them and could've potentially taken the set,'" Milana said. "We know we can be close with these teams and compete hard against them, we just have to be more mindful. … We said we had more in us, and everyone kind of took advantage of that and realized it, and then we went out and improved in the third set."
When the group retook the court for the third frame, a block from opposite/outside hitter Samantha Drechsel gave Maryland a 10-9 edge — just its second lead of the match.
Penn State's blocking game and Maryland's inefficient serving night prevented the Terps from maintaining the advantage. The Terps recorded five more service errors in the frame, leading to a 25-16 final-set victory for the Nittany Lions.
"If we missed by a few feet, I think it's an aggressive, good serve," Aird said. "But at times when we're mindless about it, a lot of balls in the net, some that were out. Kind of gross errors. I think that's just experience, you know? The kids with the most errors are clearly some of the youngest kids in the program."