Lost amid all the understandable hubbub over the signing of two men's basketball players to the 2016 class and women's basketball's top ranked class, was Maryland volleyball's official announcement of their class of 2016. We've written about and named some of these players in past stories but now we can talk about them officially.
Somehow, in only his second season as Maryland's head coach, and taking over a program whose last winning season was in 2007 and most recent NCAA Tournament appearance predated that by two years, Steve Aird has managed to snag three of the nation's top 250 players. And, with at least two more players expected, the class of 2016 shapes up as the highest ranked class in Terrapins' history.
Two of the three, Gia Milana and Katie Myers are Under Armour All-Americans while the third, setter Taylor Smith is on Prepvolleyball.com's Senior Aces The 150 which lists the 150 players who failed to break into the top 100.
Gia Milana, 6'2 Outside Hitter, Romeo, Michigan
Let's start with the premier recruit in the class, Romeo, Michigan's Gia Milana. Ranked as the No. 15 recruit in the country, Milana is the highest rated player ever to sign with Maryland. She is the first Under Armour First Team All-American to sign with Maryland. Milana is the top ranked player in Michigan and led her team to a state championship in 2014. The squad has already captured the district championship in 2015.
Milana, who plans to enroll at Maryland in January, brings a skill set that should allow her to be a six rotation player. Thus far in her career, she has 2,528 kills (5.3/set), on a .455 hitting percentage. To this, she adds 358 block and 1,311 digs.
Aird said this about Milana, "We knew Gia could play but what I have learned about her over the past year is that she is an incredible person. She has some lofty goals and a spirit about her that is contagious. She is not afraid to work, wants to compete at the highest level and believes in what we are building."
I had the opportunity to see most of the incoming class when they came to Maryland for a camp in July. Here's what I wrote about Milana, "Given a good set, the ball explodes off Milana's swing with a resounding boom that I could identify even when I wasn't looking at the action." As a six rotation player with a powerful swing, Milana has the potential to bring two aspects to Maryland's attack - a consistent threat from the back row and a player who can hit them out of trouble - that the Terps have missed for most of this season.
Katie Myers, 6'2 Middle Blocker / Opposite Hitter, Westerville, Ohio
Katie Myers is ranked as the 62nd-best player in the class of 2016 and is a Third Team Under Armour All-American. Myers holds 22 school records and has averaged 5.4 kills per set in her junior and senior seasons. Myers has steadily improved her game since verbally committing to the Terps in July of 2014. She had a .264 kill percentage as a junior and has improved that to .328 in her senior campaign. Aird says, "She plays angry and competes with an edge that I have rarely seen in my career." He went on to call her "the perfect fit" for his vision of the program.
Myers attended the camp in July but was nursing an injury and I didn't have the chance to see her in action. However, chatter among the parents on the sideline indicated that she'd killed the summer club circuit.
Taylor Smith, 6'0", Setter, Auburn, Indiana
Taylor Smith rounds out the announced class of 2016 for the Terrapins. Smith earned recognition in Prepvolleyball.com's Senior Aces 150 - the next group of top level players that didn't quite reach the top 100. Discussing Smith is a bit trickier as she will come to Maryland as a setter - a position she plays in club more than she does for her high school squad where she is a two sport athlete competing for the Railroaders in basketball as well as volleyball. Smith holds her school record in kills.
Coach Aird describes her this way:
"Taylor has an incredible work ethic and a desire to play at the highest level. This club season she will gain valuable experience and continue to learn more about the position. Her upside is massive - being a long, left-handed setter certainly has its advantages." In July, I watched Smith, who has perhaps the best nickname among the incoming freshmen - T-Nasty - and noted "I was also struck by her size, her ability to block balls at the net and how softly she set the ball. She needs to become a bit more consistent with her sets and to develop defensively but her potential is immediately apparent."
These are the first three players in a series of powerhouse recruiting classes that Aird and his staff have put together to fulfill their vision for Terrapins volleyball. I expect they will soon be joined by local stars Nell Drummey, a defensive specialist and outside hitter Megan McTigue both playing for The Academy of Holy Cross in Kensington. For the three who have officially signed, I think one parent said it best at that July camp, "They all want to build their own legacy. Every one of these girls wants to say they were part of the foundation that built Maryland into a volleyball power."
Fasten your seat belt, Terps fans. Maryland volleyball is about to take off, and it's going to be a fun ride.