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Maryland Volleyball Season Preview

Head Coach Steve Aird is in the process of building something big at Maryland and is bringing in the most talented recruiting classes in Maryland history. If you blink, you might miss it. We sat down to talk about what fans can expect to see in Year Two.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Expectations in Year Two

Aird took the helm at Maryland last year and led the Terps to double digit wins - including three wins in Big Ten play - in his first season as a head coach.

"This is a unique year...My goal is to be three to five points better a game. I'm looking at eliminating some errors, playing the game clean and just trying to get to the point where we start to play a better brand of volleyball."

"I thought the coolest thing that happened last year was that every week I think we got better."

"Every team in the conference will be better this year."

"I want the country to see a noticeable difference in how we compete."

"I'm super excited about the kids we have coming in. We're bringing in the most talented kids in the history of this program...We're two years away I think from being Sweet 16 good. I want people to know that."

Any Pressure to Surpass Win Total From Last Season?

"I am openly and adamantly opposed to critiquing myself, my staff and my program by number of wins when you're rebuilding a program...I am more into the process now than I am the wins and losses."

"If we're really healthy and we are better, I could see us getting more wins. If we have an injury or two, I could see us having less. I don't think that'll be the true indication of whether the program is getting better or worse."

"I'll really start to worry about the record in a year or two when I expect that we should be beating people in the conference. We're a year or two away from that."

Building a Better Brand of Volleyball at Maryland

"I want there to be a noticeable difference in the players' demeanor. I want to have a more confident team. I want the team to be a better representation of what I think championship volleyball looks like and I've been lucky enough to be around it. I want them to compete harder and have a better feel for the game and play with more confidence. I want them to have fun...I want them to enjoy the experience and really enjoy the opportunity to compete at the country's highest level."

The Incoming Freshmen

Aird's recruiting classes are putting Maryland on the fast track to success. He is bringing some of the nation's best to College Park and they are hungry to win.

"All four of them [in this year's class] could start. A year later, all four of the incoming freshmen in 2016 could start. In 2017, we could have four of those kids start. To me that's the really good news for the program. The other side of that is that nothing is promised. I told them that coming in. Every year it's a competition."

"I never think it's fair to have to rely completely on your freshmen to have success but I think that's what going to happen over the next few years. We're going to have to have the incoming kids play a really significant role. All of them [from this year's class] are going to have to play serious minutes."

On Hailey Murray's Improvement Over the Past Year

Murray was on the floor for every single match last year and led the team in blocks as a freshman. She competed in Europe this summer alongside some other Big Ten student-athletes and the difference is noticeable.

"She's a different human. She's a lot more confident. Physically, she's in great shape. When you get exposed to some of the best players in the world, it changes your perception about how good you are. For her, it's the beginning of a very long career for her. She got exposure to how to do things the right way at the highest level. That's changed her outlook on not only what she does on a day-to-day basis but how good she can be. She played the Italian junior national team and she held her own."

"She's got a certain swagger to her now...Every part of her game needs significant improvement and that being said, the jump from last year to this year is incredible. I'm going to give her plenty of rope. I want her to do well and not do well and keep developing."

Players That Will Take the Next Step This Season

"Adreene` [Elliott] if she's healthy. She was an All-Conference performer earlier in her career. She's elite. She has really high-end athleticism, really high-end game. If she's healthy, she's one of the better players in the conference. I wouldn't trade her for many, if any, kids in the conference. It just depends on if she's healthy or not."

Roster and Depth

"The biggest question mark going into it is setting. Between Carlotta and Whitney and Abby, who's a freshman, we're gonna have to decide what system we're in and we're going to have to decide who's getting the most touches in that position. That position is critical. It's your point guard, it's your quarterback...Abby could be our best back-row player, she could be our best setter, and she might be our best server. The only question is, "How do I play her and where do I play her?""

"We only have seven front-row players and if we're in a 6-2 system, we only have one sub."

(In a 6-2, there are two setters on the floor that sub out for a front-row player when they rotate to the front. This allows for a big, physical front-line because you always have a setter in the back-row but not up front)

"We need to keep the team healthy. What we don't have is a lot of depth offensively and at the net. Those problems get solved in spades over the next two years but for this year, especially because of how important Adreene` is going to be offensively, if she's not available we become really young and not very offensive. If she's in the game, she's a difference maker."

"Going into preseason, Adreene` is going to play. Emily [Fraik] is going to play. Hailey and Ash [Ashlyn MacGregor] are going to play. Outside of those four I think it's a toss-up for the rest of it. If Adreene` is healthy, she's going to get the ball until her arm falls off. I'm going to ask her to put up big numbers every night and she is going to be capable of it if she's healthy."

"We have a lot more options. The problem is that we're still very thin. We have more options but we're an injury away from having not very many options. As this develops, we're going to have a lot of options and a lot of talent."

Team Leaders

"Amy Dion is highly invested to have a good season. Hailey is growing in that [leadership] role. Emily is an unbelievable kid and is a kid that the team cares about. Her influence on the team is important and she's the total package as a person. I think they will want to have a good year for her."

"I told all four of the freshmen that I don't want them to change...Liz [Twilley] might be this year's Hailey Murray."

Winning the Five Set Matches

Maryland went 3-3 last season when matches went to five sets.

"We need more balance. We set [Ashleigh] Crutcher every ball, especially when it mattered, because we didn't have a lot of offensive options...This year, I think we can come at you from all three zones."

Things That You Have Learned From Year One?

"The biggest thing that I have to do going into this year is dial back. We have to train less. We have to practice less. I have to keep the team healthy but we've got to keep the intensity really high."

Bottom Line

Steve Aird knows what he is doing. He knows what it takes to win at the highest level and he is recruiting - with amazing alacrity and success - the kind of players that will take Maryland to heretofore unseen heights.

This team is talented but not deep and that presents Aird with a difficult problem. He has to keep this team developing and learning in his second year but also can't push them as hard as he would like to because that exposes them to a higher risk of injury. That will probably be his greatest challenge this year and it will be one of the main story-lines of this team's season.

The Terrapins are set up for success early in the year but in mid-September, they hit the teeth of the schedule when they take on Washington, Oklahoma and Southern Cal in Norman, Oklahoma. After that tournament, they go right into Big Ten play where they won three matches last season. Aird says that the conference will be better from top to bottom, which means that Maryland will be getting the large majority of their wins in the front end and not the back end of their schedule.

If you look at the talent that will be coming into this program in the next two or three years, you can understand why Aird strongly believes that Maryland will be a Sweet 16 team very, very soon. The health of this year's squad will determine how well they do this season. Maryland can ill afford even one or two injuries. The Terps may have to adjust on the fly but with Aird on the sideline, Maryland is in the most capable of hands.

As someone who was not just a spectator but a broadcaster during some of the very lean Tim Horsmon years, I can say with a very large degree of confidence that I have never seen so much enthusiasm for this program both inside and outside of the XFINITY Center. Maryland Volleyball's attendance skyrocketed last season and will probably keep climbing. The kids that Aird is bringing in are not just game-changers, they are program-changers.

Aird and his staff face a tough season ahead of them with a thin roster and intimidating schedule. Can the team stay healthy? How will they perform after being thrown into the gauntlet that is Big Ten conference play? Will they compete harder and take more games from nationally ranked opponents like Purdue and Nebraska? Will they get their first Big Ten road win?

Questions abound for the Maryland Volleyball team this season as they enter their second season in the Big Ten. This team is tough to get a read on because one key injury changes their whole game-plan and outlook. If they are healthy, they could be a dangerous upstart who competes hard and gives almost every team a fight. If they lose a player or two up front, then they are in really scary territory where they might start getting shelled by bigger, more physical teams.

Will Maryland get beat up by some teams this year? Absolutely. Will they take games from some top 25 teams? Yes they will. Will they blow Big Ten opponents away like Penn State and Wisconsin do? No way. Will they be a better team technically? Most definitely.

What you are going to see out on the floor this season is a better and more prepared group from last year. However, one or two injuries and another bad record would belie the team's incremental improvement.

I think this team certainly has the chance to eclipse their 10 win total from last year. I think they'll finish around the 14 or 15 win mark and I think that they'll win four or five matches in Big Ten play. Of course, this is all predicated on whether or not the team - specifically Adreene` Elliott - can stay healthy. This program will be a fun one to watch for the next few years because four or five years from now, Maryland Volleyball will be almost unrecognizable in all the best ways. That's the bottom line.