The Maryland volleyball team began its season with an undefeated Maryland Invite. But its second weekend of competition offers a new challenge: playing away from College Park.
Last year, Maryland finished 2-11 on the road. The Terps take part in the Liberty Invitational this weekend, and apart from extending their win streak, they will look to see how a team featuring six true freshmen handles its first trip to an opposing gym.
"It's exciting because we don't know how they're going to act," assistant coach Kristin Carpenter said. "We don't know how they are on the road, we don't know how many fans Liberty gets. There's a lot of unknown, which you can look it one of two ways — it can be scary or you can be excited about it, of the unknown, and kind of just attack it. And that's kind of what we've been preparing them for."
Last year, the Terps won one of 10 road conference contests. In those losses, Maryland never forced a fifth set.
The team played in different cities on back-to-back nights three times. Maryland will do it three more times this year, as well as face four away matches to open up conference play.
"So, it's the mental side of being able to get up for a match, play your best, match is over, get on a plane and get to a new city," coach Steve Aird said. "If men's hoops or soccer had to play back-to-back nights in two different cities against top-five teams, everyone would think it's outrageous. It's part of the course in the Big Ten for volleyball.
"Part of it is just understanding that's the gauntlet of it, that's what you signed up for. And with the young kids, it's hard, because you don't know what it's like until you've been through it."
Aird will lean on his experienced players as role models on the trip to Lynchburg, Virginia. Both setters, Taylor Smith and Samantha Snyder, are sophomores and have experienced travel before. Plus, five of Maryland's starters in the Maryland Invite played with the Terps last year.
Smith said younger players haven't been afraid to approach veterans for advice. One of their tips is to begin schoolwork weeks before it's due.
"Coach always talks about [how] we travel like pros," Smith said. "A lot of the times it's based on the players and us figuring out our bodies and what we need to do to prepare for the game. So, a lot of that comes from maturity and the younger players asking, 'What do you guys do?' And then the older players, like us, figure that out. I think we have a better grasp of that."
The Liberty Invitational is followed by the Thunder Invite, which includes three matches in Huntington, West Virginia. Those matches will help prepare the players for the grueling Big Ten schedule.
"It's a beautiful thing having so many freshmen because they don't know what it's like to lose on the road," Carpenter said. "They also don't know what it's like to win on the road. But, if they kind of start that off with winning on the road, it can turn into a habit."