"It takes a village to build the kind of program we want to create here at Maryland," Maryland's head volleyball coach Steve Aird told me following Saturday night's team event and scrimmage. With over 100 people at the pregame "party" and several hundred more attending the scrimmage afterward, the village wasn't huge but it likely exceeded the coach's expectations and it was certainly bigger than some of the "villages" I drove through on my journey down the Mississippi River earlier this summer.
Aird was pleased to see not only Athletics Director Kevin Anderson, who addressed the gathering in Heritage Hall at Xfinity Center, but many other members of Maryland's athletic family who came by not only to have a drink and hors d'oeuvres but who stayed to watch the scrimmage as well. I spotted former volleyball coach Janice Kruger, recent volleyball graduates Sarah Harper and Carlisle Abele, at least half a dozen Terrapin football players, wrestling coach Kerry McCoy, and new softball head coach Courtney Scott all of whom were as open to the fans in attendance as Coach Aird and his staff and players.
People entering the ground floor of the Xfinity Center were directed by volleyball players to the elevator up to Heritage Hall. (I'd like to thank Kelsey Hrebenach for escorting me personally down the hall.) They began arriving a few minutes before the scheduled start time of 6:00 pm. As I mingled with the early arrivals, I neglected to take a photograph of the rather spectacular spread of food prepared exclusively by Coach Aird's wife Brandy who was a sous chef at the five-star Pelican Hill Resort in Newport Beach, California. The combinations of flavors, textures and presentation were precisely what one might expect from a gifted chef.
"I knew that the food would be good because my wife was at the helm because she's a pretty special human being," Aird told me afterward. "I was hoping for maybe 50 people. The fact that the room was packed and the vibe was kinda fun warmed my heart. It shows that people care about what we're trying to do here. I think letting people have the opportunity to meet the players and the staff is an important step for us," he added.
Aird was thrilled by the participation of so many current and former Terps as well. "That stuff matters. One thing I know about championship programs is that if you've been at the institution, if you've played, if you've worked, you matter to me. Alumni matter. People who play other sports matter. I represent this school and this athletic department. I'm going to do my best to put a team on the court that people are proud of but also that will get those fans and alumni to keep coming back."
Although it was difficult (especially for me) to pull away from the beautiful spread of food and the beer and wine that the coach so generously provided, we exited the reception and reconvened in the Pavilion where the team was engaged in an intrasquad scrimmage and several hundred more folks had joined the fun.
With several players still sidelined by injury, assistant coach Adam Hughes was on the floor to help keep things competitive. The team treated those in attendance to a spirited three set competition. "I thought the kids played hard," Aird told me afterward. "We still have a long way to go and with the kids who are battling injuries who will be in the rotation. We still haven't seen our team yet. We haven't played a scrimmage with the players I expect to be starting."
What I saw was a team that has clearly improved - particularly in their passing and serving - from the first scrimmage and that seems to be regaining their legs after, frankly, looking a bit tired in some of the later scrimmages. Ashleigh Crutcher (whose Profile in Terpage is here) led the Terps with 14 kills and Emily Fraik also reached double digits with 10 kills. Aird held senior outside hitter Adreene Elliott out of the scrimmage as a precautionary measure.
In looking at the team's performance Aird said, "Tonight, people played hard. We've got a lot to get better at and the kids know that but this was a good step forward. The good new is I think they fight. When you care about every point, when you value it, you play hard. When people come to watch, they want to see you compete. At the end of the day, you might not have the same physical skills as your opponent but you can out work and out will teams."
The Terps will get that chance for real when they open their season this weekend with three games at Elon. They will be in for a sterner test when they travel to Seattle to face fourth ranked Washington and fifth ranked USC on September 18 and 19 in their final non-conference matches before opening Big Ten play at twelfth ranked Illinois the following week.
The road warriors will finally get a chance to play in front of a friendly crowd at Xfinity Center on October 3 when they host Indiana in the program's first ever B1G conference home game. Coach Aird and his squad hope that by that time, the village population will have added hundreds more people.