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Maryland volleyball has a statement to make with a revamped squad in 2018

After just missing the NCAA Tournament, then losing their coach and several key players, the Terps have a point to prove.

maryland volleyball Gabe Fernandez/Testudo Times

Maryland volleyball finished the 2017 season 18-14, its best record since 2010, but was the first team out of the NCAA Tournament. The Terps looked to be trending upward, but a bumpy offseason leaves them in uncertain territory.

Four-year coach Steve Aird, who helped anchor this turnaround, abruptly left in December 2017 for Indiana. His two top recruits, Samantha Drechel and Gia Milana, followed suit, transferring to Washington and Baylor, respectively, within a month of the announcement. Maryland also lost top-30 commit Mac Pedraza to Ohio State before January ended.

Adam Hughes, Aird’s top assistant for four years, took over as head coach in January. This will be his first year as a head coach, and while he lacks the experience of being at the helm, he has helped Maryland rebuild for the past several years. Before Maryland, he worked at Penn State, where the Nittany Lions took home a national championship.

In addition to a new coach, the Terps have a new team suite and locker room in the Xfinity Center Pavilion, which received an overwhelmingly positive response from the players when it was unveiled in July. Now, Maryland will hope to begin a new era on the court.

The Terps bring a young roster into 2018.

Maryland, coming into this season, has a young and drastically different team from last year. Two-thirds of the team consist of freshman and sophomores.

There are only two seniors: Abigail Bentz and Liz Twilley, who didn’t get much playing time last year. Twilley was bumped out of the starting rotation in 2017, recording only four kills and two digs in nine sets played. Bentz recorded two kills and 79 digs in 80 sets. All of those numbers have a good chance to increase this year.

Hughes will rely heavily on the younger players on the roster, including incoming freshmen Rainelle Jones, Emma Schriner and Allegra Rivas. Jones will be relied upon at middle blocker along with sophomore Jada Gardner, both filling the void left from Hailey Murray.

Schriner has a big job, as she will fill in for Dreschel, Milana and Angel Gaskin (who transferred to Hawaii for her senior season in April) at outside hitter, along with sophomores Erika Pritchard and Hailey Rubino. Of any position, this is the most critical for Maryland’s success this season. If the Terps are unable to fill the void left by that trio, it will be tough for the Terps to push towards that coveted NCAA Tournament berth.

If Maryland has one big strength, it’s the sophomore class. There are six sophomores on this year’s team, several of whom were key contributors in 2017. Pritchard is arguably Maryland’s best player, finishing second on the team last year in kills (331) and kills per serve (2.93). She was also fourth in digs (159). She will be entrusted to become what Milana was last year.

The schedule isn’t as tough as last year’s, but it’s not easy.

Maryland’s non-conference slate this season isn’t as strong as last fall. The Terps play no top-25 non-conference opponents; in fact, none of the 12 matchups are against teams that received votes in the preseason poll. Last year, the Terps played USC and Washington in College Park, sweeping USC. Their best non-conference opponents this season are: Temple (20-10 in 2017) and two teams who reached the 2017 NCAA Tournament, Princeton and Stony Brook.

The Terps will play six top-25 opponents from the Big Ten: No. 2 Nebraska, No. 4 Minnesota, No. 6 Penn State, No. 9 Wisconsin, No. 22 Michigan State and No. 23 Purdue. Overall, Maryland is playing three fewer ranked opponents than last year, which could hurt its strength of schedule come tournament time, if it’s in the mix.

This could be a vital year for the future of Maryland volleyball, and it’s up to Hughes and the bulk of underclassmen to build on what they did last season.