By: Eric Myers
Maryland volleyball concluded its nonconference schedule with the Maryland challenge at the Xfinity Center. The challenge highlighted the nonconference schedule for Maryland, which finished 2-1 in the challenge including an upset victory over No. 18 USC.
Head coach Steve Aird’s young team will now turn its attention to conference play, as it will open conference play against Ohio State on Wednesday night in Columbus, Ohio at 7 p.m.
The Big Ten, which has often been considered the premier conference in the NCAA, has six teams that are ranked in the NCAA top 25, with three teams in the top 5. Maryland is among teams on the cusp of the top 25 rankings, receiving eight votes after its 11-1 start to the season.
As Maryland tries to navigate its way through a difficult conference schedule, they will rely on the level of play that they were exposed to in the nonconference schedule and the experience they gained as a team.
“I think our preseason was a little more difficult than past preseasons,” junior setter Abigail Bentz said. “I think that really got us ready. That got the younger players more acquainted to bigger blocks, bigger girls, more physical teams. So that definitely has helped us prepare moving forward because the Big Ten is full of big blocks and big teams.”
Maryland’s returning players are looking to improve their results within the conference, where they went 4-16 a season ago.
“It’s a world of difference,” sophomore outside hitter Gia Milana said while comparing their confidence level going into conference play from last year to now. “I feel like we have more experience, I feel like we have more talent, we have a deeper bench. We’re just ready; physically, mentally, we’re all in shape. We’re ready to go.”
Beginning with four consecutive matches on the road, the six freshmen Terps will immediately have a chance to get acclimated to longer road trips and hostile environments. With the experience that this team will continue to gain, Aird is confident that his team will keep improving as the season goes on.
“Our best volleyball is a long way away,” Aird said. “We’ve got a lot of stuff to get better at. Every year I’ve been here, our team in December would’ve whooped our team in August. So I expect us to keep getting better, and tightening up our systems, and people to mature, and the freshman to develop really really fast because that’s a steep learning curve, but they’re getting there quickly.”