Maryland volleyball has a long way to go before reaching steady crowds that will rival top Big Ten teams. But Xfinity Center offers its own unique and challenging atmosphere, as well as increasing attendance rates for coach Steve Aird’s team. In 2014, Aird’s first season in College Park, the average attendance rose from 336 to 1,539 for volleyball.
In their first three Big Ten matches of the season, the Terps faced not only the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the nation, but crowds of 3,319 at Minnesota and 5,700 at Wisconsin. Unranked Iowa on Wednesday night pulled a crowd of 1,372 for the Hawkeyes’ sweep of Maryland.
The 904 people in attendance on Sunday for Maryland’s five-set loss to No. 24 Illinois still created a difficult environment for the Illini to play, according to Aird.
“It’s hard to play on the road. Illinois will tell you this is a hard place to play. We’ve created a really unique environment with the DJ, the music in between points. It’s just kind of unique for the Big Ten,” Aird said.
Around the Big Ten, average attendances land most teams in the top 25. More than 8,000 people were in Lincoln, Nebraska to see Saturday night’s upset of No. 1 Nebraska by No. 19 Ohio State, for example. The Cornhuskers enjoyed an average of 8,083 for volleyball in 2014, with the No. 1 total attendance in the NCAA that year with 145,493 fans.
The Big Ten had four other teams in the top-10 average attendances in the country, as Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Penn State joined the Cornhuskers on the list.
At one point in the fourth set against Illinois, Aird pumped up the crowd to help Maryland on to a 25-23 set win, tying the match at two sets apiece.
“That was the player in me coming out, you want energy, you want to create energy, you want to be someone people will look at and get fired up about,” Aird said.
“We have a young team, we don’t have enough of that yet where someone sticks a ball or gets a big kill and the place goes crazy. You see it all the time in hoops, all the time in football, and some of the good ones in women’s volleyball.”
Before Sunday, the Terps had 12 straight matches on the road. The brief respite of a home game Sunday is over as Maryland travels to play No. 22 Michigan and No. 18 Michigan State on Friday and Saturday.
“When we’re away, and we get a huge point, the crowd doesn’t go crazy, we’re the only ones that are screaming and no one else is, so it’s kind of quiet,” freshman Gia Milana said. The outside hitter had 16 kills against Illinois, the most in her young and promising Big Ten career.
“Having a home court is really nice because when we have a good play, it picks us up a lot, we get so excited. It helps us even more.”
In 2014, Aird helped set four of the top-10 attendance records in Maryland volleyball history, including the No. 1 attendance record of 4,522 against Penn State on October 23. That match was played on the Xfinity Center main floor, a venue the team will play in for its rematch against Iowa on October 14, prior to this year’s Maryland Madness for men’s and women’s basketball.
As for Xfinity Center, the 1500-seater gymnasium’s attendance record was set last year against Illinois, with 1752 at the team’s Big Ten opener.
“It’s a smaller gym, so the people are closer so it’s a lot louder,” Milana said of the Pavilion. “Away gyms, there’s probably more people that come to their games, but they have huge arenas and it’s not as loud, so I really like this environment because it’s right on us, we feel the energy from the crowd and it’s really nice.”