Following Maryland volleyball's win over Iowa on Friday, coach Steve Aird said he got emotional with senior middle blocker Hailey Murray.
One of two seniors on a rebuild-focused roster, Murray has two more regular season matches left in her collegiate career. She's often overshadowed by her younger teammates, who have had more national hype as members of back-to-back ranked recruiting classes.
With multiple commits in the stands for the Terps' straight-sets loss against No. 5 Nebraska on Saturday, attention diverted from this historic season — their best start since 2005 — to possibilities of the future.
But when Maryland needed her against the Hawkeyes, Murray supplied nine kills, five aces, four blocks and two digs to help earn a win Aird felt was critical for the Terps' NCAA tournament hopes. The program hasn't made the postseason in 12 years.
"She started playing really her sophomore year of high school," Aird said. "I didn't recruit her. She came here and the first year, she'll tell you, she wasn't very good at volleyball. And the fact now that she's, you know, one of the elite middles in the country and have that kind of performance in a must-win match for us was really special."
Aird brought up Murray and defensive specialist Samantha Higginbothem — the squad's other senior — unprompted in his Friday press conference. He admired Murray's leadership from the front with her versatile efforts. Aird noted that Murray and Higginbothem have endured all the uncertainty surrounding a team without a winning record since 2012.
Murray has increased responsibilities in her final season. She'd never served for the Terps before, but after a season-ending injury to middle blocker Katie Myers two months ago, she's brought that into her repertoire. With libero Kelsey Wicinski missing for her 12th straight match, Murray's helped an inexperienced receiving line with first pass duties, too.
Murray said she practiced extra serving before and after practice every day last week. She notched a career-high five service aces Friday before adding another in Maryland's Saturday loss to No. 5 Nebraska. It displayed to Aird how Murray's work ethic and development are a model for underclassmen to follow.
"Every opportunity she had to get fit, she did," Aird said. "[She] played overseas a couple times in the summer. Any chance she had to develop her game, she was on it."
Outside hitter Erika Pritchard said Murray has a calming presence. Murray leads the Terps in blocks and hitting percentage. She's taught Pritchard methods for blocking more effectively. Middle blocker Jada Gardner said Murray is a natural leader.
Murray has reached out to 2018 middle blocker Rainelle Jones, too, offering her potential replacement advice for a smooth transition into the Big Ten. Murray's ride ends as excitement builds around Aird's squad, but she's helped build that momentum.
"With Hailey, [I was] pretty emotional with her after the [Iowa] match," Aird said Friday. "I'm just so proud of that kid. She's just worked and worked and worked, and to have a match like this when we really needed a match like this from her was awesome."