Earlier this week, Maryland head volleyball coach Steve Aird officially introduced his incoming four player class for 2015. With every recruit best suited to playing a different position on the court, each player has an opportunity to compete for early playing time and make a positive contribution for Maryland in the Terrapins' second Big Ten season. Let's meet the newest Terps.
LIZ TWILLEY - 6'2" Outside hitter
Ask any coach heading any program at a state's flagship university about the factors that help build a program's legitimacy and they will cite keeping the best local players at home as one of the most important. Around College Park, fans refer to it as The Movement or #DMVtoUMD. Entering just his second season, Aird has managed to do just that with Maryland's Gatorade Player of the Year, Liz Twilley.
Twilley led Oakdale High School to Maryland 2A State Championship in 2014. She racked up 359 kills on a .381 hitting percentage and, for good measure, added 215 digs. Here's what an opposing high school coach said about her:
"She is an outstanding athlete and volleyball player. Each year, she has grown and taken her game to the next level. If you were to attend a match, you learn quickly who she is by her court presence. She is a big threat at the net, and she is an offensive weapon, hitting way above the opponent's block and past any defender with the speed of her arm and strength of her hit. Defensively, she contributes to her team with her blocks and long reach to dig balls."
In 2014, Twilley was named a high school All-American by both MaxPreps and PrepVolleyball.com. She brings excellence not only on the court but off it as well. She has maintained a 4.11 weighted GPA and she is a member of the National Honor Society and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Twilley is part of her school's Leadership Academy who has volunteered on behalf of Unified Sports charitable initiatives in addition to organizing a community-service initiative to benefit the U.S. Armed Forces.
Said Aird, "Liz is a local product who is very proud to represent her home state. She was very straight forward with us from the time we arrived in College Park that this was her dream school and she wanted to represent Maryland. I think if she continues to train hard, stays healthy and works on her game she will help us a great deal. We need her to hit the ground running and we believe she will be up for the challenge."
ABBY BENTZ - 5'10" Setter / Defensive specialist
Bentz comes to College Park from nearby Susquehannock High School in Shrewsburg, PA where she was named the 2015 York-Adams Interscholastic Athletic Association Player of the Year. Despite missing several weeks of her senior season due to an ankle injury, Bentz still led her squad in kills and was among the team leaders in nearly every statistical category.
Aird likely first became familiar with Bentz during his time as an assistant at Penn State. According to an interview she gave to GametimePA.com, Bentz made her final choice between the Nittany Lions and the Terps. She explained why she chose Maryland, "I really believe in what they're building there. It's a new staff, and they're in the Big Ten for the first time. I believe the coaching staff is a great fit for me. They talk about the stuff Coach Rob (Marrison) has taught us over the years. They have a great program for what I'm trying to go for right now, which is journalism. It's a great fit all around."
Like Twilley, Bentz is an outstanding student who is a member of the National Honor Society and, like her future teammate, is a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Aird had this to say about Bentz, "Abby is a very versatile athlete and a good all-around volleyball player. She is a great student and has a very high volleyball IQ. She can set, handle the ball and serve at a high level."
KELSEY WICINSKI - 5'10" Libero
Maryland ventured a little deeper into Big Ten territory to bring Wicinski on board. Wicinski, who played her high school ball for Geneva High School in Geneva, IL comes from a volleyball family. Notably, her sister Lauren played two years for Michigan State after transferring there from Northern Illinois. The elder Wicinski was a second team All-American in 2013.
When Lauren was participating in the 2013 U.S. Women's National Volleyball A2 Program, she had this to say about her then 16 year old sister, "My youngest sister (Kelsey) has a crazy volleyball IQ. She knows so much about the game. She'd come up to me after a high school match and be like ‘you should have hit more line.' She'd just picked up on things I definitely wasn't picking up on when I was her age."
Aird began recruiting Wicinski when she was a junior after seeing her play in a club tournament and it took only one spring break visit to College Park for Kelsey to commit to Maryland. "The campus is gorgeous and I loved the coaches," Wicinski said. "The team was just awesome. I felt like that was my place. I just had that feeling as soon as I left campus. I looked at my parents and I was like 'That's it.' "
Wicinski also had an indirect connection to Maryland. Her mother Gina and Sandy Dion, the mother of current Terps libero Amy Dion, were high school teammates.
As a junior at Geneva, Wicinski established program benchmarks for digs in a season (815) and single match (49) as Geneva won its first sectional championship. Her new coach describes her as "one of the best prep liberos in the country." Aird also highlighted her background, "She comes from a fantastic family of athletes, a great high school and a tremendous club. She knows what it takes to compete for championships. She will make an immediate impact on our program and have the opportunity to do some great things."
ANGEL GASKIN - 6'1" Opposite hitter
Gaskin, from Tampa, FL, is the player who traveled the greatest distance to come to College Park but will have the shortest distance to travel when practice begins later this summer. You see, Gaskin enrolled at College Park in January and has participated in the team's spring workouts and practices.
Gaskin is the least known of the four incoming freshman but may be the most physical of the group. She helped lead Plant High School in Tampa to three district titles. In 2013, Gaskin was participating in a camp at Penn State when she suffered a severe injury to her right knee tearing her ACL, MCL and meniscus.
According to a story in the Tampa Tribune, "the college teams once interested in recruiting her were concerned about her leg injury. All but one." Aird remembered Gaskin from the summer camp in 2013.
"Maryland had no concerns whether I would come back stronger," Gaskin said. "Coach Aird believed in me."
Aird still believes in Gaskins, "Angel is a physical, left-handed opposite that comes to us with good skills. She understands what she is getting into and how hard she needs to work to help us out. Most importantly to me, she is a wonderful human being with great energy and a team-first mentality. She will be a very important part of our program going forward, and we are very excited to have her on campus."
Wrapping it up
The freshman class of 2015 is a small step on the road to making Maryland competitive in the hyper-competitive world of Big Ten volleyball. All four players have one or more aspects about them that could allow them to make immediate contributions to the Terps though as fans we should temper our expectations.
Twilley is a talented player but hasn't faced the type of athlete she will see in the B1G on a weekly basis. Having seen her play at the state championship, I think she will need to add some bulk to her frame and considerable strength before she has a real impact.
Gaskin, whom I have seen in spring practice, appears to have the physicality necessary to compete at this level but needs to work on her attacking skills.
Though I have yet to see her play and can find only limited highlights and information, my sense is that Bentz will, like Twilley, face a significant adjustment in facing the grind of a B1G season. However, the mere fact that Penn State showed interest in her indicates the level of her potential and, if she lives up to that potential, she will certainly see time on the court.
Wicinski, is likely to be the player who could have the most immediate impact. Given the descriptions of her family's passion for the sport and her exceptional volleyball IQ, she could certainly push senior Amy Dion for playing time at the libero spot.
The addition of these four players combined with the experience the current roster gained last year under Aird and his staff should make Maryland a better squad in 2015 than they were in 2014. Whether that will translate into more wins - particularly in conference play there the competition looks to be even tougher than it was last season - remains an open question.
However, even if the Terps struggle to find wins on the court, Aird and his staff are clearly building the foundation for a successful program. The trajectory is headed up and the sky is the limit.