Whenever someone has asked Maryland volleyball coach Steve Aird at a tournament which players are committed to his team, he points across the multiple courts lined up in a convention center to a girl leaping, head and shoulders above the net, on the other side of the gym.
Aird's lone 2018 commit, middle blocker Rainelle Jones, stands out. She's the No. 32-ranked recruit in her class. She reaches 10-feet-8 on her vertical leap. She has two years' experience with the U.S. National Team's development program. Plus, the 6-foot-3 prospect is from Oxon Hill, less than an hour drive from College Park.
Jones' commitment follows a trend for Aird's team. His past two ranked recruiting classes featured standout athletes from across the country, such as opposite/outside hitter Samantha Drechsel from Washington and outside hitter Gia Milana from Michigan.
But the rise of his Terps program — evidenced by their best start to a season since 2005 — has also come from signing top-caliber local stars such as Jones.
"Coach Aird, he's trying to keep the Maryland players inside of Maryland," Jones said, "… to continue to represent for the state and to show that we're growing in the sport."
Associate head coach Adam Hughes was Jones' coach at the club level when she was a freshman, and he encouraged her to join the Terps.
When Jones visited other schools, she would think back to Aird's vision for the Terps – and the integral role she would play in it. Aird said her work ethic sets her apart from other players who are gifted athletically. Milana said her height and jumping make her a formidable net presence. Jones thinks the energy she brings to the court is an asset.
Jones is a product of Metro Volleyball Club in D.C., where five current Maryland players also competed. That group includes freshman outside hitter Erika Pritchard, who is second on the team in kills. 2019 commit Cara Lewis also plays for the club.
"[Aird] knows the coaches really well," Pritchard said. "Our club, there's a lot of people going to Maryland right now, so that also brings a lot of attention. And we're doing better now, so more players are staying local."
Aird said as recently as five years ago, the best players in the area chose schools such as Texas and Florida. Now, they're considering the Terps.
Jones said Aird made College Park feel like home for her. Because she is in the area, Jones has forged a connection with her soon-to-be teammates, receiving advice from middle blockers Hailey Murray and Katie Myers about what to expect at the next level and what she can do to prepare.
Next year will have a different feel at the start of the season. Jones will be the only newcomer compared to six freshmen this campaign. Milana predicts there will be more confidence around the team given that stability.
"This is where we're going to start to make the real charge," Aird said.
When Aird arrived in 2014, Maryland was ranked 150 in RPI. Now, it's a top-50 team, eligible for the NCAA tournament.
"It's just a totally different feel because of the conference, I hope because of our staff, I hope because of the success we've had, the recruiting success, the attendance, the energy," Aird said. "It's now a destination spot."