After battling nagging injuries as a freshman and enduring offseason shoulder surgery, Maryland volleyball outside hitter Gia Milana worked hard to improve her health before the season.
She visited a physical therapist in her hometown of Romeo, Michigan, and underwent laser therapy with a chiropractor. She rehabbed her shoulder almost two hours every day this summer.
Since the start of the campaign, Milana, a Big Ten All-Freshman team member last year, has taken further measures to avoid injury.
She spends extended time in the training room prior to matches and practices, and she changed her offensive approach, shying away from a tendency she had when she was younger to spike balls as hard as she can on every play. The new tactic has reduced wear on her shoulder, as well as limit unforced mistakes, which coach Steve Aird said is "the biggest part of her maturity."
"Coming out of high school and her prep stuff, she was just so physical and loved hitting the ball and racking up huge kill numbers — but she also had a lot of errors," Aird said. "Now, I think she's picking her spots a little bit better and if she loves it she'll go for it."
Last season, Milana dwarfed the rest of the team with 446 kills, almost 200 more than any other Terp. However, she posted a .151 hitting percentage and accounted for more than 35 percent of Maryland's total attacking miscues.
Through two tournaments this year, Milana is second on the team with 67 kills, and her hitting percentage has risen to .226. That improvement stems from her finesse approach and increased support from incoming freshmen.
First-year outside hitters Erika Pritchard and Samantha Drechsel rank in the top five on the team in kills, with 77 and 44, respectively.
"Last year, I kind of felt like at times I needed to get kills, or else I'd be letting my team down," Milana said.
Now, with more offensive weapons, Milana doesn't feel as much pressure to score on every set. That's allowed her to manage her health on the court and limit mistakes.
"I know the injury was there," Milana said. "It makes me think about, 'OK, I can't hit the same shots I used to hit.' But also, watching the team practice in the spring really helped me to see the court and see what decisions others made."
Milana bonded with middle blocker Katie Myers during her spring recovery. Myers redshirted her freshman year after an ACL injury sidetracked her rookie campaign.
They laugh at the same things and get along well despite having different personalities. Myers is very "mom-ish," Milana said before calling herself the goofier child.
Now a redshirt freshman captain, Myers has watched Milana carry more responsibility in her second year starting for Maryland. Milana doesn't hesitate to reposition Myers when she notices the opposition adjust its attack.
Her leadership on a young team has helped the Terps to an undefeated start.
"She's matured a lot with less errors and talking a lot on the court," Myers said. "I know she's helped me a lot because in the spring we were just in the training room together most of the time. … She's always been driven, but this year she's more determined than ever."