Maryland volleyball coach Steve Aird never lost contact with Kristin Carpenter.
Aird was Penn State's director of operations when the team recruited Carpenter as a setter, and he coached the Virginia native during her senior year. The two met again when the Terps played Oklahoma during last season's Pac-12 Challenge, the school where Carpenter then served as an assistant coach.
"She was always one of those people that you knew whatever she did, she made people around her better," Aird said. "So when we had the opening, it was a pretty natural thing to think about her and ask her if she was interested."
Carpenter jumped at the chance to work for her former coach in February. She continues the succession of Penn State volleyball personnel making the switch to College Park. Associate head coach Adam Hughes also worked in State College.
The move to Maryland put her within 100 miles of her family and allows her to coach in the Big Ten, the conference she is most familiar with. But Aird's work in the recruiting side of the game also drew Carpenter to the school — the fourth-year coach has commitments through the class of 2020 to follow the back-to-back top-25 classes playing now at Xfinity Pavilion.
"These knuckleheads that're coming down the hall right now, actually," Carpenter said as the biggest benefit of her new job, as she watched the underclassmen-heavy squad warm up prior to practice Tuesday. "Getting that top-10 class in 2017 — it's unbelievable. And to be able to work with Steve and [Hughes] again, this is a dream team that's really, really cool to be a part of."
As the rest of the volleyball team finished warming up in the weight room adjacent to Xfinity Pavilion, the Terps' setters hit the court early ahead of each of last weekend's Maryland Invite matches. Led by Carpenter, Maryland's setters worked through a series of simple setting drills.
"It's just getting them into a rhythm," Carpenter said.
At times during the Maryland Invite, setters hampered runs for the Terps. Taylor Smith stepped on the center line twice during the opening match against UMBC, while both Smith and Samantha Snyder misplaced passes for hitters.
Carpenter is overseeing a transition from a 5-1 to a 6-2, in which the Terps rotate between two setters on the court. With strong attacking options, the substitutions prioritize serving and backrow play for setters while reserving net rotations to attacking threats.
Last year, that was impossible with Smith, the only setter receiving court time while senior Whitney Craigo was injured. But with the transfer of Snyder from American — in addition to freshmen attacking options ready for immediate playing time — the system changes were critical.
Carpenter draws on her experience to ease that transition. In her first two years at Penn State, she played a part in the 2009 and 2010 NCAA Championship wins.
She started 36 matches as setter her sophomore year while assisting her team to a Big Ten best .314 hitting percentage. In the title match against California, she notched 46 assists before being named to the NCAA Championship All-Tournament team.
"She's definitely had a huge impact just because she's been there — all the big-time games, all the big-time matches that we want to be in, she's been there and she's lived it," Smith said. "And she's done our position, you know, for the setters. So, she can just give so much real live feedback."
But after back-to-back championships in her first two seasons, Carpenter lost her starting role to a new setter and had to adjust to playing as a defensive specialist her final two years. By playing in multiple positions and different roles, she can relate to every player on Maryland's roster.
Then, before entering the coaching side of volleyball, she played professionally for two years in Sweden and Greece.
"The cool thing about having Kristin on the roster is that she's accomplished everything these kids want to do," Aird said. "She's set a team to a national championship. She played professionally. She's an unbelievable role model, really hard worker and as much time as they can spend with her, I think that's a really valuable thing."
Aird, Hughes and Carpenter share much of the same mindset. The added consistency throughout the coaching staff helps the team in training and in matches. Instructions from one coach aren't overruled by another.
While Carpenter said the three of them think differently, they share the same core values and work ethic. Aird used that connection with Carpenter to draw her to the university, selling her with full confidence on the budding dynasty in College Park.
"Steve and I know each other better than most people," Carpenter said. "So how he initially told me about everything, it was just a very Steve fashion. … He could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman wearing white gloves. It was a no-brainer for me."