During Maryland volleyball's first set loss to Northeastern on Saturday, libero Samantha Burgio and outside/opposite hitter Samantha Drechsel looked at each other with wry smiles. One of them needed to hit the ball over to Northeastern to reset their defense.
Instead, the freshmen collided and the ball dropped for a point. Coach Steve Aird lowered his gaze to the floor for a second.
Improving communication is crucial for the Terps after finishing 12-20 last year and bringing in talented recruits. With 12 underclassmen as the team's core, there will be growing pains.
"I'm trying really hard [to stay calm]," Aird said. "It's a really hard team for me to coach right now because I'm typically a really fired up, emotional guy. I take a pretty good rip into some people for not performing. But these kids don't know any better. Before I go to the match I talk to myself about staying patient and teaching."
The Terps rallied through errors to defeat UMBC, Northeastern and Temple at the Maryland Invite this past weekend. Aird admitted there's plenty to work on, but the young team passed the first of its tests this season. There will be more with a schedule including 15 teams that played in the tournament last year.
At times, it looked as if the Terps could do no wrong during their season-opening tournament. In the first set against UMBC on Friday, Maryland jumped out to an 8-2 lead. But errors stymied the progression as the Retrievers made up the deficit to win, 28-26.
Midway through that first set, Maryland had a chance to separate from UMBC once more. Opposite hitter Angel Gaskin hit a kill to put the Terps up by three. Then, outside hitter Erika Pritchard's serve missed. Middle blocker Katie Myers killed to increase the Terps' lead to three before Myers' serve also missed.
An attacking error from sophomore outside hitter Gia Milana forced Aird to call for a timeout, and the Retrievers maintained the pressure after the stoppage to win the set.
"They're just young," Aird said. "So, they're afraid to say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing. I told them in practice if they're in our gym now, it's because they belong here. … And it's funny, when you have really good control of your game, you can start helping others. But a lot of them are still in the 'I don't want to mess up' stage of their career. The best ones don't spend a lot of time thinking about negative things at all."
Shrinking away from mistakes also still affects veteran players. At times, senior middle blocker Hailey Murray reverts to her past mistakes, but she's gained comfort through her experience.
"[Aird] always says it's from the shoulders up, so it's all like a mind game," Myers said. "You have to tell yourself, 'I'm going to nail this pass, nail this serve.'"
After Drechsel hit -.071 against Northeastern, she came back with 15 kills and a .300 hitting percentage against Temple.
Drechsel and Pritchard combined for six kills in the fifth set against Temple, good for six of Maryland's final seven points scored. Drechsel said she's never played in an atmosphere like the Xfinity Center pavilion.
The Terps were timid at times in their preseason Red-White scrimmage, and it carried over into early parts of the Maryland Invite, too.
Digs and sets careened off players into the stands. Despite those miscues, Aird predicts ball control will improve as the newcomers get comfortable.
"Coming from club and high school to a group like this," Aird said, "the speed is really the biggest difference."
That heightened pace requires better communication as players develop chemistry on the fly, such as calling for a ball on a broken play to avoid a collision.
"Not even on the court, but off the court as well," Milana said. "I know last year I had a really tough time with the whole communicating thing, because I was like, 'Oh, why can't I come in the gym by myself and serve some balls?' You need to tell your team where you are, communicate all that stuff. And on the court, it's super special because we're all new to each other."