Two distinct coaching philosophies clashed when the Maryland volleyball team beat Iowa in four sets (25-21, 25-19, 24-26, 25-18) on Friday night.
The Terps' Steve Aird and the Hawkeyes' Bond Shymansky took the helm of their respective programs four years ago, tasked with turning their teams around. Though both coaches have brought improvement, Shymansky has made progress by bringing in transfers, while Aird has leaned on recruiting.
Iowa has five transfer players on its roster. Outside hitter Taylor Louis, previously from Marquette, leads the team in kills. Middle blocker Kelsey O'Neill paces the team in blocks after transferring from Pittsburgh. Defensive specialist Annika Olsen has the most digs in her third season with the Hawkeyes since transferring from Georgia Tech.
Aird's roster is bolstered by 12 underclassmen, following back-to-back ranked recruiting classes. Outside hitter Gia Milana and Erika Pritchard, products from those classes, lead Maryland in kills this season.
In their Friday showdown, Aird's long-term focus on building through recruits beat out Shymansky's rapid rebuild in a four-set triumph. Maryland's 17th win of the season helped build its NCAA tournament resume, as Iowa came in ranked No. 45 in RPI.
"I'm just a relationship guy. All these young kids that have come in, like, I love these kids," Aird said. "Obviously, [Shymansky's] done a great job and they've got a great team, but I've always thought that when I took a job like this, when they were whatever they were [in RPI], I needed to build through the draft and go slow and steady."
Milana led the Terps with 19 kills, while Pritchard and opposite/outside hitter Samantha Drechsel — top pieces in Maryland's 2017 class — also reached double figures.
When Maryland faced Iowa last season, the Terps stumbled to a straight-sets defeat on Xfinity Center's main court.
One season later, they showed their growth, handling the Hawkeyes with precise serving.
Maryland didn't have to force the issue at the service line like it did during its four-match losing streak against top-10 opponents. Iowa was its first unranked opponent since Oct. 27, and the squad's well-placed service efforts helped distinguish the sides.
The Terps recorded 12 aces to Iowa's four. Middle blocker Hailey Murray notched a season-best five aces, and Pritchard added four. Before this season, Murray hadn't served for the team before.
"Any time you have to do an individual skill, there's a lot of room to lack confidence," Murray said. "What I think about a lot of times is just good hand contact and then hope the ball does the rest of the work."
Murray, who entered the match with nine aces this season, notched four in the first frame, including the final one to win the set, 25-21.
Murray and Milana distanced Maryland late in the second frame. Soon after Maryland's serving forced Iowa out of system, leading to a 3-0 Terps run capped by a Murray spike, Milana and Murray stuffed Iowa's Jess Janota to win the frame, 25-19.
Despite holding a 24-22 edge in the third frame, Maryland made two late errors to help Iowa extend the match.
But Maryland recovered with a 7-0 run in the fourth set to fuel its victory. Aird raised both fists into the air in a rare show of emotion when Pritchard notched her second block of the frame to establish a 13-8 lead. Pritchard gave Maryland match point with Maryland's 12th ace, and Drechsel powered home a kill to secure the win.
"You just have these windows against teams where you just have to shut the door, and if you don't shut the door, those are the kinds of matches that the other team comes back and wins in five," Aird said. "I wanted the team to shut the door, and then it gets real dangerous if you don't come out with real emotion in the fourth game, because if the other team gets a sniff, it's going to be tough."