The goal wasn’t accomplished, but the Elon University volleyball definitely left Alumni Gym with a whole slew of positives to build from.
The Phoenix fell in four sets (25-23, 16-25, 25-14, 25-20) to the University of Maryland in its season opener on Aug. 29 as part of the Elon Phoenix Classic, but being able to hang with a Big Ten Conference team was pleasing to Elon head coach Mary Tendler.
“Obviously, the No. 1 goal is to win the match, which didn’t happen. But we competed from the start of the match all the way through, and I’m really happy with that,” Tendler said. “We also made some really good adjustments throughout the match.”
It was a game circled on the calendar for every Elon player since the schedule was released in the summer, not only being against a Big Ten school but with it being the season opener.
Needless to say, it was pretty easy to get excited for.
“There was a lot of adrenaline going through us at the beginning,” junior outside hitter Megan Gravley said.
Elon hit .101 (42 kills, 26 errors in 159 attempts) — similar to Maryland’s .104 (49 kills, 33 errors in 154 attempts). Senior outside hitter Ashleigh Crutcher and senior middle blocker Adreene Elliott paced the Terrapins, recording 18 and 16 kills, respectively.
Gravley led Elon with 11 kills, while freshman outside hitter Sydney Busa had 10.
MORE ELON VOLLEYBALL: Harris, Karle supply strong middle blocker combo
Seeing how Maryland runs its offense forced Elon to adjust itself early on.
“We didn’t know much about Maryland,” Tendler said. “They set really high balls to their hitters, which we’re not used to seeing. So our block really started to wait a little longer. We got some better touches and were able to defend better as the match went along.”
Neither team held a lead greater than five in the opening set, one which featured 12 ties. The teams stayed within two points of each other for much of it. Down the stretch, it was Elliott and freshman middle blocker Hailey Murray who supplied kills to help turn the set in favor of Maryland.
Elon was gunning from the start in the second, jumping out to a 10-5 lead which forced a Maryland timeout. Five different players tallied kills, as Elon’s lead reached as big as 20-10.
But the Terrapins were able to slow it down late, winning four consecutive points after being down 24-12.
That momentum carried into the break and to the third set, which Maryland broke open with seven straight points midway through.
“When we get those runs in our head, they’re hard to get out of,” Gravley said. “Those can really take a toll on you and your mental game. It’s key to get out of them early.”
The biggest lead in the fourth set was the final margin of 25-20. Some hitting errors and a few violations proved to be Elon’s undoing.
“We definitely worked really hard this preseason,” Busa said. “We just want to come out and be the best team we can. We never gave up, we never broke down as a team. We stayed together as a team, which was the most important thing for us.”
Elon’s play was certainly encouraging to Gravley, keeping in mind a move to the Colonial Athletic Association this year and facing a number of teams they’re not familiar with. The Phoenix hosts San Jose State University at 12:30 p.m. on Aug. 30 and Liberty University at 7 p.m.
“We were playing really aggressive, something Coach really touched on this whole preseason,” she said. “This new conference and playing teams we haven’t played before like Maryland, we just have to go out and hit everything and try to dig everything because we don’t know what really to expect.”
SERVICE POINTS: Elon senior middle blocker Kris Harris returned to the court for the first time since injuring her knee and having surgery last October. She played a few points in the middle of the third set, as did redshirt-freshman setter Sydel Curry, who missed last year to a knee injury as well. ... Curry's parents, former NBA player Dell Curry and former Virginia Tech volleyball standout Sonya Curry, were on hand for the game. ... Elon did not record a single ace, and had eight service errors. Maryland had five aces and three service errors. ... Junior middle blocker Catherine Head, who also missed time to injury last year, started and played much of the match. She had four kills and six blocks. ... In the early game, Liberty swept San Jose State.