In his first season as the head volleyball coach at Maryland, Steve Aird shepherded his team through its first Big Ten gauntlet of a season and likely exceeded many people's expectations. Despite his realistic outlook, coming from Penn State, the NCAA's most dominant program, the coach probably chafed under his team's 3-15 conference record more than he let on. But Aird has a plan.
One piece the plan didn't include was looking for short-term success and gratification by bringing in large numbers of transfers and foreign players. Aird's goal is to construct a program built for long-term sustainable success. With that in mind, he set his early sites on 2016 and beyond while fully understanding that the Terps could struggle again in 2015.
Getting the ball rolling
I've written elsewhere about the importance of getting the 2016 ball rolling with Michigan standout Gia Milana and many of the players who subsequently committed to Maryland because Milana's pledge provided tangible substance for Aird's vision. Recently that momentum continued with a verbal commitment from outside hitter Sam Burgio (Twitter: @SamBurgio07). Burgio is already rated by some as the fifth best OH in the class of 2017. Here are some highlights:
In his post season interview, Aird confidently asserted,
"Maryland wasn't even an afterthought for the top local players. But the energy is growing and as we continue to build on it, we'll start keeping those kids home."
If recent rumors circulating through Maryland's volleyball community are true, the coach's confidence was well founded. Aird appears to have the clear inside track with Middletown volleyball rising junior Erika Pritchard who is considered by many to be the top player in Maryland. The top player in Maryland is not a bad player to have. In the last few years, the best players in the state, Alex Holston and Rhamat Alhassan, both left Montgomery county to play for Florida -- a squad that reached the Elite Eight in 2014.
But the good news doesn't stop there. Aird and his staff have been involved with a local 2018 prospect who attends Oxon Hill High School. This young woman is 6'1" tall and already touching 10'1" on both her block and approach. Perhaps more importantly, she is something of a Maryland legacy as her father played basketball for Maryland and was a teammate of Len Bias.
Update: As I was writing this story I noticed a Tweet that confirms that Rainelle Jones, whose father, is Tom "Speedy" Jones, became Maryland volleyball's first verbal commitment for 2018! Welcome to the Terps' family, Rainelle, and welcome back, Tom.
And on the coaching front
No, Aird has not yet seen any changes in his staff. The news here is that assistant coach Adam Hughes recently received a Thirty Under 30 award from the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA).
Created in 2009, the award highlights the top 30 up-and-coming volleyball coaches under the age of 30. (Hughes came in just under the wire.) Nominees can coach in any level of the game and must be a member of the AVCA.
Hughes came with Aird from Penn State where he had served as Director of Volleyball Operations and also coaches the Metro American volleyball club's 15 Travel team. Aird calls Hughes one of the top young coaches in the country. "He is an exceptional talent and I am fortunate to have him as part of my staff. Few young coaches have been fortunate to be around the nation's elite at every level, but his ability to break down film, train, educate and lead separates him. In my opinion, the best is yet to come as he studies, reads, learns and takes great pride in improving each day."
The little finish
When Aird says, "The best is yet to come," he could be talking about his program as much as he is about Hughes. Although it promises to be another difficult season, the 2015 Terps are likely to be a bit better than they were in 2014. The team will have an additional year under Aird and his staff. The returning players have a better idea of the rigors of a B1G season and the preparation necessary to survive it -- let alone succeed in it.
Adreene Elliot should return from her knee surgery, providing a much needed weapon. And Aird has some freshmen coming in who he believes will contribute almost immediately. Even those improvements are but mere bricks in the foundation of his program. Beginning in 2016, Terps volleyball fans will see an explosion of talent unlike any the program has ever featured.
In a soaring Michel Legrand song in 1982, the great lyric writing team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman asked, "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?" By song's end, this was their answer:
If we can try with every day to make it better as it grows
With any luck than I suppose
The music never ends
For Steve Aird and Maryland volleyball, the song is just beginning. Get in line, Terps fans. Volleyball could be the next E-Ticket ride that lifts Maryland athletics to new heights.
And going really old school: