Volleyball: Cats lose thriller to Maryland in 5 sets


Emily Ehman talks to her teammates. The senior libero recorded seven digs in Wednesday’s loss to Maryland.

Carlos Stinson-Maas, Reporter


Northwestern was 15 points away from winning their first conference game of the 2019 season.

The Wildcats performed well at times, winning two sets against visiting Maryland — before Wednesday, NU (9-12, 0-9 Big Ten) had won two sets combined in its other eight conference matches. But the Cats couldn’t convert when it counted, however, eventually falling to the Terrapins in the final set at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

With Wednesday night’s loss to Maryland (12-9, 4-5), the Cats are now 0-9 in conference play, their worst start since 1999.

The first set was neck-and-neck throughout, until a 4-0 run gave the Cats a 16-12 lead, and NU stayed in control. In a key moment, Sophomore setter Kiara McNulty met Maryland redshirt sophomore middle blocker Katie Meyers at the net to record her only kill of the set, pushing the team’s lead to 19-13.

“At that point it’s me versus the middle, and who’s gonna push harder,” McNulty said. “I know I’m not the biggest but I make damn sure that I’m going to push harder than the other kid.”

Maryland crawled back, breaking off a 7-1 run to bring them within two. But, unlike their past several matches, the Cats closed out the set 25-22 to grab their first set win in five games.

“It was nice not being stuck on 18 or 21 or 22 and then not being able to finish,” coach Shane Davis said. “We worked a lot on that in practice this week, which I’m glad transitioned into the match.”

The Terrapins “flipped the script” in the next two sets according to Davis, edging out a 25-22 win in set two and dominating in set three en route to a 25-16 victory.

Errors were rampant for NU in those sets, with the Cats committing 14 attack errors compared to just six for the Terrapins.

“Set two was a disappointment,” Davis said. “We were just really giving Maryland way too many errors to recover from.”

NU rebounded in set four, jumping out to a 10-3 lead thanks to a five-point run. The Terrapins kept it close, but the Cats pulled out the win 25-20 behind a pair of late kills from junior middle hitter Alana Walker.

But, when it mattered most in the final set, NU once again couldn’t finish, failing to keep the momentum going in the decisive fifth set. Maryland never trailed in the final frame, finishing on a 5-0 run to clinch a 15-7 set win and 3-2 match victory.

Throughout the match, the Cats faltered in key areas, with the Terrapins recording 23 total blocks to just seven for NU. Overall, the Cats struggled to convert offensively, committing 28 attack errors and 16 service errors.

NU was led by freshman outside hitter Temi Thomas-Ailara, who had 17 kills — Walker and sophomore outside hitter Ella Grbac each added 14. McNulty finished with a season-high 47 assists as well as five kills and two service aces.

Grbac said the Cats have some of the best players in the country, but lack the passion needed to win games.

“Mental stability and mental toughness, that’s the key that we’re missing,” Grbac said. “We really need to grow up and learn how to win.”

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