By Eric Myers
When Maryland coaches began recruiting Erika Pritchard as a sophomore at Middletown High School (MD), they noticed her prowess from the end line and the potential to be a dominant server in college.
Now as a college freshman, the coaches beliefs are already coming to fruition as Pritchard leads the highly competitive Big Ten with 33 service aces — 10 more than anyone else in the conference.
“I remember when I was being recruited by [associate head coach] Adam [Hughes], he said something about me coming and I’ll be one of the top servers in the gym,” Pritchard said. “It’s really cool that actually came to life and it actually is playing out.”
Pritchard’s propensity for aces can be attributed to her 6-foot-2 frame, combined with her leaping ability that leads to an immediate downward angle on the ball when she serves. With the downward angle, opponents have less time to react to the ball, get to the spot and make solid contact.
“From the endline, she’s instantly — when she tosses the ball — well above the net,” Aird said. “She just has a great feel for how to hit the ball hard, and just like she does offensively, she just hits some crazy angles where it makes it very hard to tell where the ball’s coming to or going to.”
Although Pritchard is already enjoying success as a server, head coach Steve Aird sees the potential for increased dominance in that facet of her game. Citing inconsistency that can arise at times, Aird is looking forward to seeing the development of Pritchard and the fortification of her existing serving skills.
One way that Pritchard, and the team, work on their serving is through a drill they run where the main objective is always hitting the mats. Two mats are set up in specific spots on the opposite side of the net, and the players work on pinpointing the ball to that spot with their serves.
An exceptional server who has the ability to put up aces, or string together a dominant run on the endline is a weapon for a team in any level of volleyball, especially when a team needs to flip momentum. Pritchard has already shown that she can take a game over with her serving alone, most notably during a nonconference match against Elon where she tallied seven aces, the Big Ten single-game record for aces this season.
Maryland went into the fourth set of that match with a 2-1 lead over Elon, but found itself trailing 17-14. In need of a spark in order to come back and secure the win, Pritchard stepped to the endline. Pritchard served for 10 consecutive points, and the 10-0 run by the Terps included five aces from their freshman.
“It’s really exciting that I can contribute, and score points from the endline,” Pritchard said. “Any way that I can help my team is good.”
With Maryland ranking fourth in service aces per set, at 1.51, the team feeds off the energy that each service ace provides. As a young team, Maryland can be more susceptible to inconsistent play, and an ace provides them a chance to turn the tide in their favor.
“[An ace] gets us super excited for our other teammate, because are rare in college,” freshman Jada Gardner said. “So it really helps us and gets us more energy.”