Maryland volleyball coach Steve Aird came to College Park in 2014 to build the Terps into a Big Ten program. He had ample experience with Big Ten volleyball before, and while a winning record is not there yet, each class of new recruits brings Maryland closer to a competitive level in the Big Ten.
As a player, he was a two-time captain at Penn State. As an assistant coach, he helped lead the Nittany Lions to a NCAA Championship a month before coming to Maryland. His knack for recruiting started early. In 2007, as Penn State’s Director of Operations, he helped to recruit players who went on to play roles in the Nittany Lions’ run of National Championships in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.
That kind of recruiting is what builds a lot of hope for the Terps’ volleyball program. Aird secured the program’s best recruiting class in history on Wednesday, only a year removed from establishing what was previously the program’s top recruiting class.
“Our 2017 class is skilled, tough and deep. Our staff's goal when arriving at Maryland was to build a program that could compete with the nation's best,” Aird said. As important as the skill of the class is the depth that comes too.
Maryland will lose three seniors to graduation: Ashlyn MacGregor, Carlotta Oggioni and Whitney Craigo. Of the group, MacGregor is the only one who gets serious floor time. Craigo would have, but an upper body injury ended her Maryland career prematurely, while Oggioni has only played two sets this season.
Adding six recruits, four of whom are Under Armour All-Americans, brings immediate talent to the starting squad. It also offers cover from injuries, and the Terps have had plenty of those this season. Freshmen Katie Myers and Aylin Saran were both redshirted due to injury, and will have a lot to offer the team next season. The two were part of Maryland’s 2016 No. 16 recruiting class in the country.
“We wanted to find high character athletes who were hungry for a challenge and believed in our vision,” Aird said. “It has been a process, but I believe we've found an elite caliber of athletes in this class, and our staff and program is excited to welcome them to College Park next year.”
The Terps’ 2017 recruiting class has four All-Americans, which ties for tops in the nation. The other schools include Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Illinois. Each appeared in the NCAA Tournament last season, and all except for Illinois are ranked (Although the Illini have been for much of the season, and are still receiving Top-25 votes).
Aird has yet to win against his former team, but with the caliber of the Nittany Lions, that isn’t a shock. Last season, Maryland played then-No. 1 Penn State close in a four-set loss.
The Terps will try again on Friday when the No. 10 Nittany Lions come to the Xfinity Center Pavilion. Penn State looks to stay convincing after a streak of four-straight losses was stopped with a win over Iowa last weekend.
The Nittany Lions can do that through clean volleyball. They have the fewest errors in the Big Ten, and are second with a team .296 hitting percentage. They will feed junior outside hitter Simone Lee early and often. The Wisconsin native leads the Big Ten with 4.25 kills per set. Junior Haleigh Washington is second on Penn State in kills, and the middle blocker holds the Big Ten’s best hitting percentage, .444.
Maryland will look for a revitalized Gia Milana. After struggling in both matches against Ohio State, she came back strong against Purdue and Minnesota. A bounce back game is needed for MacGregor, who hit negative against Minnesota.
Maryland (10-16, 2-12) will try to make life difficult for Penn State on Friday, but will not expect much more out of the match. After the success Aird has had recruiting for two straight years, the Terps can look for more in this matchup in a year or two.