Early in the third set of Maryland volleyball's straight-set defeat at No. 6 Nebraska, middle blocker Hailey Murray's kill attempt ricocheted off a blocker toward opposite/outside hitter Samantha Drechsel.
Instead of resetting the Terps' attack, Drechsel took advantage of a clear attacking lane to slam a kill off a Cornhusker defender. In front of 8,031 fans on a Wednesday night, the freshman led Maryland's attack with nine kills and a .333 hitting percentage.
Coach Steve Aird liked the promise the No. 23-ranked recruit in the 2017 class showed in an atmosphere he hopes his squad can compete in a few years down the road.
"I'd like to see that from all our kids," Aird said. "She's learning. I don't think she would've been like that earlier this year. So, she's developing, and sometimes you have a good night and a bad night, but I thought she was really brave."
Drechsel said Devaney Center holds more fans than she's ever played in front of before. Nebraska leads the nation with an average of 8,208 fans per match. Despite being at a midweek match against a Terps team that hasn't made the NCAA tournament since 2005, Cornhuskers fans still created a raucous atmosphere that distracted Drechsel at times.
But in the biggest moments, she fed off the energy. From the end line in the first set, she hammered a serve, leading to an overpass and an easy kill for outside hitter Erika Pritchard. Drechsel notched back-to-back kills in the second set to give Maryland its biggest lead of the match at 10-6.
But that lead evaporated just as quickly, with the Terps experiencing similar difficulties as they did in their previous two matches against top-10 foes Minnesota and Wisconsin. The stretch concludes Saturday when they meet No. 1 Penn State in University Park.
"We definitely have to learn fast," Drechsel said. "Going through these last three games against top-10 teams, it's definitely making us learn a lot faster than maybe we would if they weren't all in a row. I think it's really going to help us in the long run."
To counter Nebraska's blocking, Aird told Drechsel to hit balls higher than usual and work around the edges of the blocks. She didn't manage many untouched kills, but she used deflections off the blockers to pick up points.
If she hit down near the top of the net, she said she would have likely been blocked more. The Cornhuskers registered four blocks while Drechsel committed just two attacking errors.
Aird said there's a wide gap between the top teams in the conference and the rest of the Big Ten. But he added that if Drechsel keeps developing at the rate she is, she's going to be "awfully good."
Her improvement is one aspect of Maryland's potential rise.
"Confidence just comes with experience," Drechsel said. "Now that we're kind of far into the season, playing in front of a lot of people isn't as much of a shocker."