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Maryland volleyball took a step forward in year 2 of the Steve Aird era

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The Terrapins increased both their conference and overall win totals from last season, and beat a ranked team for the first time in more than five years.

Sammi Silber

In its second season in the Big Ten, the Maryland volleyball team did what it hoped to do: improve. Coming off a season where they went 10-21 (3-17 Big Ten), the Terps looked to take steps in the right direction as head coach Steve Aird continued to build a program that could compete in the best conference in the country.

The 2015 campaign started better than most expected, as the Terps won their first nine matches of the season. Their first loss came against George Washington during the Kristen Dickmann Invitational. While they were able to rebound and win their 10th match of the season in a five-set thriller against Navy, the season quickly headed south as the Terps lost 12 consecutive matches. The skid didn't catch anyone by surprise; Maryland's schedule was grueling and it faced seven ranked opponents during the losing streak.

The turning point in Maryland's season came on October 24, when the Terrapins hosted Rutgers. Maryland clinched its first Big Ten victory of the season and won its next match against Iowa as well.

The highlight of the season came when Maryland defeated No. 12 Ohio State in straight sets. It was the Terrapins' first win over a ranked opponent since a 3-2 win over No. 22 Florida State on Oct. 17, 2010. It was a win that proved that the future of Maryland volleyball is very bright.

After losing four straight matches to ranked opponents, three of which were in the top 10, Maryland was able to finish off the season with back-to-back victories over Iowa and Northwestern. Their five conference victories eclipsed last season's win total, and Maryland finished the season with a 15-19 overall record and a 5-15 record in conference play.

The Terps suffered setbacks early in the season as they lost seniors Emily Fraik and Kelsey Hrebenach to season-ending injuries. Both injuries occurred before Big Ten play began, leaving the Terps without two of their tallest and most experienced players.

Following the injuries, Head Coach Steve Aird was forced to put four freshmen into the starting lineup. Liz Twilley, Kelsey Wicinski, Abby Bentz and Angel Gaskin all played key roles in their first season of collegiate volleyball. Twilley and Wicinski saw the most success; Twilley became one of Maryland's key offensive components as she finished the season second on the team with 355 kills, and Wicinski slid into the libero position for the second half of the season.

The story of the season, however, was the emergence of senior Adreene' Elliott. Elliott was a force from start to finish after missing most of the 2014 season with a knee injury. The outside hitter averaged 3.54 kills per set this season and had double-digit kills in 25 matches. Her impact was felt on the defensive end as well. She finished her career as Maryland's all-time solo blocks leader and finished in second place on the all-time kills list. Elliott received American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-America Honorable Mention honors at the end of the season.

While the Terps will miss the skill and leadership of its 2015 senior class, the incoming freshmen, which includes top-15 national recruit Gia Milana, comprise the greatest recruiting class in Maryland volleyball history. Maryland showed its ability to compete in the Big Ten while hit by the injury bug. With healthy returning talent and the highly-touted recruits coming in, the Terrapins could be a scary team next season.