Maryland volleyball outside/opposite hitter Sam Drechsel was one of two freshmen on the 2017 Big Ten Foreign Tour. But as the Terps' top recruit in program history, she didn't shy away from the challenge of facing more experienced players during the eight-game, four-country competition.
The 2016 Under Armour First Team All-American led the Big Ten team with 11 kills and a .600 attacking percentage in a 4-0 loss to the Italian Junior National Team. Two days later, Drechsel recorded 12 kills, six digs and two block assists in a split against the same opponent. She recorded nine kills and five blocks in a 4-1 win over the Russian Federation.
"She got to see some players that did some things at a really high level," said Maryland coach Steve Aird, who managed the Big Ten squad. "And we play in the premier conference in the country, so I think she got a taste of what it's like to play against teams that are really good before she's had to really get in that mix when it comes to a season here at Maryland."
Drechsel enrolled early at Maryland as part of the Terps' first-ever top-10 recruiting class. The No. 23 ranked recruit from Bothell, Washington, used the additional time on the campus to spend time with teammates. Before leaving for the international competition in June, Drechsel talked to middle blocker Hailey Murray — a member of the 2015 Big Ten tour — about her upcoming trip.
"For me, it was an awesome experience. I learned a lot, especially since I went so young, just like Sam did," Murray said. "You learn a lot from the older players and you learn a lot seeing how people play overseas, and you kind of see what's out there and it gives an introduction to the greater world of volleyball."
The Big Ten team finished with a 13-17 set record against national and junior national teams from the Czech Republic, Russia, Italy, Bulgaria and Croatia.
Aird, entering his fourth year as Maryland's coach, acknowledged assembling a roster of at least one player from each of the 14 schools in the conference required careful management. Drechsel said Aird needed a right-sided player, and her ability to fill in as a setter provided an added boost. So, the freshman got her first in-game experience playing for Aird.
"I think we got a lot closer," Drechsel said. "I figured out more how he is as a coach, because when you're a recruit, coaches, they're kind of different than when they are when they're actually coaching you. … It was good to see how he is in an actual game."
Murray agreed, and she described the early introduction for Drechsel as an advantage entering this season.
"Now she's got some experience working with other girls and playing at a high level," Murray said. "So, I think now she knows game-mode speed probably a lot better than any other incoming freshman will, which will help her a lot. It's an experience that you can't put a price on."