Maryland volleyball is a good team in a conference that demands greatness, as coach Steve Aird put it following Sunday’s straight-set defeat to Nebraska. It leaves the Terps (8-12, 0-8) still searching for their first Big Ten win of the season.
The search is made even more difficult with the number of injuries to potential starters. As revealed last week, freshman Katie Myers was redshirted after a setback in her recovery from a torn ACL in the offseason.
Beyond the loss of Myers, the No. 62-ranked recruit by PrepVolleyball.com, senior Whitney Craigo’s Maryland career was announced as over by Aird after the loss to Nebraska. An upper body injury puts the setter out of commission for the rest of the season. Another upper body injury has freshman Aylin Saran out for the season, as well.
Aird said that Angel Gaskin and Gia Milana are both dealing with nagging injuries to their upper and lower bodies, respectively, but it has not affected their floor time at all.
Myers and Craigo, if healthy, could be in the starting lineup for the Terps. Craigo’s absence thrusts freshman Taylor Smith into the starting setter role, a job she continues to learn on the go.
The injuries have stretched the Terps thin in key areas, but good performances against Nebraska from Gaskin and Hailey Murray are positive takeaways from it all. After Milana’s recent run of success, the Cornhuskers’ defense definitely keyed in on stopping her attack, but she still pitched in with a team-high 11 kills.
Murray especially made the most of the attention on Milana, as she had nine kills and a .500 hitting percentage on Sunday. Gaskin also had four kills and combined with Ashlyn MacGregor on two blocks.
“We wanted balance,” Aird said. “I didn’t want to set [Milana] 50 times and no one else get the ball. I thought the balance was okay.
“They were concerned about Gia, I thought they did a good job of getting in her way and taking care of the ball,” Aird said. “On the other side of the coin, I was proud of [Murray’s] numbers, I think she attacked a really good team.”
MacGregor had an uncharacteristic -.111 hitting percentage against Nebraska. The senior middle blocker averaged a .337 hitting percentage before Sunday’s loss. Liz Twilley had her second straight negative match, with -.042 against Iowa and -.211 against Nebraska.
“I think the consistency, not just for [Murray] but for any of the kids in the program, that’s the battle,” Aird said. “To try to play towards the high end of their talent every match, but part of it is is that the other team has something to say about that.”
The Terps will rematch No. 18 Michigan on Wednesday. Maryland fell 3-1 to the Wolverines in Ann Arbor two weeks ago. There is a lot of work to be done, and a lot of clichés to describe the Terps’ slow-going process of winning their first Big Ten match of the season.
“Just keep building the trail, keep hitting the rock—it’s going to break eventually,” Gaskin said. “We’ve gotten a lot better as a team and continue to get better, it’s all about sticking with it, not getting frustrated, getting back in the gym, working hard because it’s going to come.”
The immense Big Ten competition is the reason these players came to Maryland: To play against the best of the best.
“We’ve lost a whole bunch of matches and that’s kind of the dialogue, or the focus,” Aird said. “But these kids aren’t quitting, they’re playing as hard as they can possibly play and they’re having a good experience.”