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Previewing the 2021 Maryland volleyball season

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The Terps take the floor this weekend hoping for an improved 2021 season.

UMTerps

Maryland volleyball seeks to return to its 2018 form after back-to-back disappointing seasons.

After having a nationally ranked recruiting class in 2020, the Terps seemed primed for a bounce-back season in 2020-21. Instead, their struggles continued as they finished with a 5-15 record, their second-worst in program history.

The Big Ten is yet again one of the best conferences in all of college volleyball with six ranked teams, all of them being in the top 12, making this season another uphill battle for the Terps.

With a normal offseason, fans back in the stands, and a revamped lineup, the question becomes, are the Terps up for the challenge?

Key losses

Maryland lost multiple key pieces coming into the 2021 season, but none of them are more important than outside hitter Erika Pritchard. Pritchard was a cornerstone and leader for this team since day one, starting in every match while at College Park. She led the team in kills for the last three years and in service aces two of her four years. Pritchard concludes her Maryland career second in total kills (1,526), fourth in total service aces (127), and first in total points (1,790).

The Terps also lost a handful of impactful seniors including, setter Nicole Alford, defensive specialist/libero Sam Burgio, and outside hitter Hailey Rubino. Alford has been a consistent starter for coach Adam Hughes, starting in 63 of 72 matches played. Alford led the team in assists in two of the last three years and finished her career with the 10th most assists in program history.

Burgio was a reliable player for Hughes last season, starting in all 18 of her matches played and leading the Big Ten digs per set (4.63). Rubino started 5 of her 15 matches played, ranking seventh on the team in digs (52) and eighth in digs per set (0.95).

Jada Gardner, who ranked fourth on the team in blocks (56) and second in kills (120), and Rebekah Rath, who ranked third on the team in kills per set (1.90), piled on to the outgoing talent, transferring to Texas State and Auburn, respectively.

Returning players

Despite these crucial losses, multiple important upperclassmen return, along with future cornerstones.

The dynamic middle blockers Rainelle Jones and Cara Lewis return to action for the Terps this season. The duo helped Maryland become the best blocking team in the Big Ten, combining for 239 blocks. Lewis averaged 1.54 blocks per set, the best mark by a Maryland player since 2006.

The 2020 freshman trio of Laila Ricks, Sydney Dowler, and Sam Csire will return as well, all will be tasked with significant roles following the departure of so many important pieces.

Ricks was fantastic during her first year ranking third on the team in blocks per set (1.05) and sixth in kills per set (1.13). She started in the last 10 matches and closed the season with 14 kills, 11 blocks in two matches against Northwestern.

Dowler is a stud who will be the Terps starting setter for the foreseeable future. She started the last 9 matches of the season and placed top five in assists (227) and digs (67).

Csire is the player who may be asked to do the most this season with the graduation of Pritchard. Csire has flashed signs of offensive dominance, ranking second on the team in kills per set (2.13) and starting seven of the last nine games after being limited early in the season due to an injury. Csire continued her upward trajectory in Maryland’s Red-White scrimmage last Saturday, giving fans and teammates a new sense of confidence.

New additions

Maryland has an entirely different look in 2021, adding nine new players - five freshman and four graduate transfers.

Graduate students Paula Neciporuka, Hannah Thompson, Lexi Kohut, and Kaylee Thomas add some much-needed experience to this young Maryland roster.

Outside hitters Neciporuka and Kohut both offer offensive firepower, averaging 1.84 and 2.66 kills per set.

At the service line, middle blocker Thompson brings her 102 kills, .265 hitting percentage, and 80 blocks, the most on the Fighting Irish last season, to the Terps.

Thomas looks to make an impact right away at defensive specialist/libero after starting in all 27 matches for the Crimson Tide in 2019 while tallying 4.04 digs per set.

The freshman class of 2021 is extremely versatile and will bring a lot of depth to this roster.

Milan Gomillion was a three-time Best Digger Award winner at the Capitol Hill Classic and was First Team All-Conference and All-County at Annapolis Area Christian School in Annapolis, Maryland. As a defensive specialist/libero, Gomillion was named to the Prep Volleyball Class of 2021 Top 150 rankings.

Erin Morrissey joins the team as well out of Tampa, Florida. Morrissey had a little bit of a late start to volleyball but was able to help lead Plant High School to state runner-up and semifinalist in 2018 and 2020.

Ellie Watson is a 6’1 middle blocker out of Orlando Park, Illinois. Watson was a big part in Carl Sandburg High School’s conference and regional championships in 2018-19 and 2019-20 and earned a spot on the 2020 Under Armour All-American Watch List.

Rounding out the freshman class are setters Erin Engel and Zoe Huang. Engel amassed over 700 assists, 200 digs and nearly 50 aces through her two seasons at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She is also just the 11th Under Armour All American to commit to Maryland in program history.

On the other hand, Huang helped lead Flint Hill High School in Centreville, Virginia, to the 2019 VISAA State Championship with a 31-1 record, where she finished with 542 assists, 87 service aces, 135 digs, and 21 kills. Huang also has Terrapin blood as her father, Michael, also went to Maryland.

Looking forward

Maryland’s nonconference schedule begins with four tournaments, two of them being home. The toughest opponent they will face is UMBC, who finished with a record of 11-4 last season.

Their schedule only gets tougher from there as they will battle against the Big Ten’s best, including their first four conference games against top 12 ranked teams.

The Terps will kick start their season on Friday at home, playing Virginia at 7 p.m.