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Maryland volleyball rides hot start into UTSA Classic

The Terps have started the season 3-0 for the second time in three years.

Maryland volleyball Photo by Maryland Athletics

Maryland volleyball had 42 total errors in Monday’s five-set win against Howard, the most its had in a match since upsetting then-No. 17 Purdue on Oct. 29, 2017.

Head coach Adam Hughes described the match as sloppy, but despite all that, the Terps pulled out a gritty victory to improve to 3-0 in the season.

“They were proud that they were able to battle back and win in five, but they were also disappointed in their performance,” Hughes said. “That’s kind of a good place for me as a coach. I’m happy that they’re pretty hungry to get back to work and [Wednesday’s] practice was much better.”

It’s been a quick turnaround for the Terps, getting to practice at home one day before traveling to San Antonio, Texas, for the UTSA Classic. Maryland isn’t alone, as its first opponent, University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley, played on Wednesday night, so fatigue could be a factor for both sides.

“It’s a short week. That’s probably the biggest challenge that we’re facing,” Hughes said. “They are three teams that I think are good and had good RPIs last year, one of the reasons why we’re headed to a tournament like this. ... It’s a weird week for everyone involved, but we’ll try to get a good scouting report together for Friday.”

Despite a lack of practice time, the gameplay hasn’t changed for the Terps as they prepare to play the Vaqueros, UTSA and Houston, three matches in roughly 30 hours.

“For us, it’s focusing on what we can control, especially the errors, trying to limit that because we had too many against Kansas State and especially Howard,” redshirt sophomore middle blocker Katie Myers said.

This is Maryland’s second straight weekend of nonconference tournaments, the second of four before Big Ten play starts.

With one tournament already under their belt, the Terps will look to keep their record perfect while adjusting to a tight schedule similar to what they will encounter in conference play.

“Preseason helps us with the quick turnaround,” redshirt sophomore middle blocker Jada Gardner said. “We’re used to practicing for two to three hours, twice a day.”

Maryland begins the tournament on Friday at 5 p.m. against UTRGV before another Saturday doubleheader, Houston at 1:30 p.m. and UTSA at 7 p.m.

Here’s what to expect.

UTRGV (3-1, 22-9 in 2018)

The Vaqueros are coming off three straight winning seasons, including a NCAA Tournament appearance in 2016. Despite a 22-9 record in 2018, UTRGV lost seven graduating seniors and brought in two freshman for 2019.

They have another large senior class this year of five, but they suffered some massive losses coming into this season. Gone is their best attacker, Ragni Steen Knudsen, who led the team last year with 409 kills and was second with 276 digs.

Also gone is their libero, Gysell Zayas, who led the team with 586 digs, their leading blocker, Alexandra Ecker, who had 114 total blocks last season, and their leading assister, Dubravka Vukoja, who had 823 total assists.

Newly named senior captain Barbara Silva will have to step up to fill their roles. She was second on the team last year with 335 kills, third with 93 total blocks and fifth with 185 total digs.

The Vaqueros have gotten off to a good start so far, but losing that many impact players will have its effects throughout the season.

Houston (1-4, 17-16 in 2018)

The Cougars have gotten off to a rough start in 2019, losing four straight matches to begin the season before winning their first match on Tuesday at McNeese. Like Maryland, Houston lost two graduating seniors from 2018, but retained the rest of the roster.

They also brought in a massive recruiting class of eight new freshmen, one of which, Abbie Jackson, is already leading the team this year in kills with 64, an average of just under 13 kills per match.

The Cougars also retained their best offensive and defensive players, seniors Katie Karbo and Megan Duncan, junior Abby Irvine and sophomore Kendall Haywood.

Karbo led the team with 659 digs last season, 13th in the nation. Duncan led the team with 356 kills, Irvine led the team with 775 assists and Haywood led the team with 142 total blocks.

It’s been a rough go so far, but the Cougars are too deep to continue on this run of form.

UTSA (1-2, 19-8 in 2018)

Coming into 2019, the Roadrunners retained a lot but lost a ton on defense. They graduated three seniors in 2018, including defensive specialists Shelby Williams and Ashley Dominguez, who were first and third in digs last season with 443 and 226 respectively.

USTA retained their attack from 2018, four players who recorded over 240 kills, 1,031 in total. They will look to rely on seniors Brianna McCulloch and Kara Teal to take over the attack game, along with sophomores Kirby Smith and Hannah Lopez.

Smith and Teal are among UTSA’s best returning defensive players, as Smith was second on the team last season with 252 digs and Teal led the team with 86 total blocks. Their recruiting class of four will help to patch in holes, but based on last year, the Roadrunners should be as competitive if not more because of what they were able to retain.