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Previewing the 2021 Maryland volleyball season

Erika Pritchard and Co. will look for a bounceback season after a disappointing 2019.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Head coach Adam Hughes’s second season in College Park didn’t go as well as many Maryland volleyball fans had hoped for.

Nine wins in conference play in 2018, the program’s best since joining the Big Ten, plus a 9-5 record on the road caused heightened expectations, only for an injury-riddled Maryland team to lag behind as a bottom tier Big Ten program in 2019. The Terps went 13-19, including a mere 5-15 record in conference play.

In such a loaded conference, which includes six ranked teams, it’s tough to envision placement among the Big Ten’s elite. Yet there is room for optimism with a nationally ranked (No. 19 overall, per PrepVolleyball) recruiting class for just the third-time in program history.

It has been well over a year since Big Ten teams have taken the court due to the COVID-19 delay of fall sports. Nevertheless, a spring volleyball season has arrived for the Terps. Here’s a look at what’s in store for the 2021 season.

Key losses

Of the key losses for the Terrapins, only one was due to graduation. Samantha Snyder was a consistent rotational player for Maryland. She led the team in assists (482), was third in digs (149) and had 39 serving aces across 27 matches.

But the biggest change for Hughes’s team is the departure of Katie Myers, who transferred to No. 7 Minnesota. The All-Big Ten First Team selection and member of the AVCA All-North Region First Team played in every set of all 30 of her starts last season, missing only two games due to an ankle sprain.

Still, as a redshirt sophomore, Myers paced the Terrapins in blocks (156), aces (46) and a 39.5% hitting percentage — the second highest in program history. Myers also ranked in the top-five of the Big Ten in aces/set (0.38), blocks/set (1.29) and the aforementioned hitting percentage mark.

Emma Schriner, who placed top-six for the team in points (123.5) and blocks (65), and Allegra Rivas, the starting libero and digs leader (413) from 2019, have both left the team. The departures are both due to personal reasons, according to a team spokesperson.

Returning players

Despite the key losses, the Terrapins return a bunch of statistical leaders from last fall.

Star player Erika Pritchard will embark on a strange, coronavirus-shortened senior season after leading the Terps in kills (417) in 2019. Pritchard’s impact wasn’t limited to offense, however, as she also placed in the top-five in digs (248) and blocks (74).

Pritchard’s sidekicks on the offensive side this year will be the trio of sophomore Rebekah Rath, redshirt junior Jada Gardner and junior Rainelle Jones.

Rath was a stud during her first year out of Altamonte Springs, Florida, which included a career-high 21 kills against Princeton during the Maryland Invite, where she was named to the all-tournament team.

Gardner started 27 matches in 2019, in which she compiled 166 kills and 87 blocks — both top-five for the Terps.

Jones was a Wolfpack Invite All-Tournament Team member and had season totals of 185 kills and 136 blocks while playing through lingering finger injuries.

Defensive anchor Nicole Alford is also returning after a season in which she missed the first nine matches due to a foot injury. The senior’s first season at Maryland in 2018 after leaving Georgia Tech saw her record 1,117 assists, accounting for 9.8 per set, which was the most by a Terp setter since Remy McBain in 2011.

New additions

This peculiar spring season of volleyball has pushed back the debut of Maryland’s top notch freshman class, which was ranked No. 19 in PrepVolleyball’s Top 100 Senior Aces.

Sydney Dowler (PrepVolleyball’s No. 63), a four-time North Carolina state MVP, is only the 10th Under Armour All-American to commit to Maryland in program history. As a setter for the Green Hope Fighting Falcons in Cary, North Carolina, Dowler only lost six games throughout her career, which culminated in four state championship titles.

Two spots lower on PrepVolleyball’s rankings at No. 65 is outside hitter Sam Csire out of Strongsville, Ohio. At Strongsville High School, Csire was Second Team All-Ohio during her junior year, in which she had 324 kills. The following season, she found herself on the 2019 JVA All-National Team.

Rounding out Maryland’s recruiting class is Laila Ricks (No. 70), who spent her high school career as a member of nationally recognized programs at Flint Hill in Oakton, Virginia, and Redondo Union in Redondo Beach, California, her hometown. Ricks, along with Csire and Dowler, will look to help usher in a new era of Maryland volleyball.

Looking forward

The coronavirus delay has resulted in a conference-only, 22-game season for the Terrapins, where they will be matched up against all but two (No. 13 Purdue and No. 1 Wisconsin) of the other Big Ten programs for a two-game series.

Though Maryland got lucky by missing matchups with two top-15 squads, the team will still face four ranked opponents in No. 5 Nebraska, No. 7 Minnesota, No. 9 Penn State and No. 24 Michigan.

The season kicks off on Friday, January 22, against Ohio State on the road, followed by the second leg of the doubleheader the following day. Maryland will then face the toughest stretch on its schedule, playing a pair of top-10 teams in Minnesota and Nebraska in back-to-back weeks.

From then on, the Terps will alternate between home and away doubleheaders every week until their season finale at home against Northwestern on April 2 and 3.