Maryland volleyball split its Saturday double-header, beating North Carolina Greensboro in straight sets before falling to Air Force in a five-set thriller.
In the Terps' first match, they dominated from wire to wire, leading the Spartans in nearly every statistical category. Against Air Force, the Terps were stymied for the first time this season as Maryland concluded its opening weekend at 2-1.
The Terps continued to run their offense almost entirely through setter Nicole Alford. The sophomore transfer from Georgia Tech had 38 assists against UNC Greensboro and added 50 against Air Force along with 12 digs for her first double-double of the season. Alford rounded out her statline with two blocks, a kill and a service ace.
After a weekend where she totaled 114 assists, Alford credited her successful transition to work put in with her teammates.
"A lot of the preparation has just come from communication. It's been a new system, especially for me," Alford said. "It's been really fast so you just have to trust your hitters. … It came a lot from communication and this weekend I think we saw us connecting really well and executing."
Set one of Maryland's Saturday opener against UNC Greensboro began tightly. A 3-0 run from the Terps, though, punctuated by back-to-back kills from Jada Gardner, put Maryland up 14-11. Then, a 9-3 run from Maryland closed a 25-19 set win and set the tone for the contest.
The Terps dominated the first set statistically, with 17 kills and 14 assists compared to the Spartans' eight kills off a .103 hitting percentage.
Maryland pulled away late in set two, as well, en route to a 25-19 frame win.
UNC Greensboro notched four straight points in the third set to establish a three-point edge. But a 7-2 run from Maryland helped secure a 25-21 set win and a second consecutive straight-sets victory to open the campaign.
The Terps, who compiled just 13 miscues in Friday's win over Wake Forest, maintained their efficiency with a .318 attacking clip in Saturday's first contest. That mark was buoyed by Maryland's decisive third set, in which the Terps hit .424.
Middle blocker Rainelle Jones was a force at the net with three blocks, 14 kills and a .500 hitting percentage in the first game Saturday. And Gardner paced Maryland in the nightcap against the Falcons with 18 kills while adding nine digs and maintaining a .417 hitting percentage.
Maryland took set one against Air Force, 25-21, to start Saturday's second contest. But coach Adam Hughes took a timeout with the Falcons leading, 11-5, in the next frame. While the Terps scored off the timeout, an Air Force block and two straight errors from outside hitter Erika Pritchard extended Air Force's lead to 14-6, forcing Hughes to use his second timeout.
The Terps lost their first two sets of the season when Air Force held off late rallies to take the second and third frames.
Maryland was pushed to the brink in the fourth set with the score tied at 24-24. But an error by Air Force and a service ace by middle blocker Katie Myers pushed the match to the fifth set.
In the final frame, the Falcons took a quick 3-2 lead and never relinquished it, keeping the Terps at bay to win the set 15-12 and deliver Maryland its first loss of the new campaign.
"It really came down to serve and passing," Hughes said of Maryland's loss. "We went three [aces] and 11 [errors] from the service line and they went 11 aces and 11 errors."
Despite the loss to Air Force, Hughes said he came away from the opening weekend feeling good about his team.
"We got a really young squad, they've been really focused, they've been really excited to get to work," Hughes said. "Obviously we're a little disappointed with today's result, but overall we're making a lot of progress."