Three games into coach Adam Hughes' tenure leading the Maryland volleyball team, the Terps are still developing their identity. But in the team's first weekend, Hughes showed one way that the program will change with him at the helm.
Under coach Steve Aird, Maryland rotated between two setters in a 6-2 formation, allowing for the Terps' to utilize a plethora of attacking options during matches. After Aird departed for Indiana, two of Maryland's top three attackers from last year transferred, and Hughes searched for additional pieces to bulk up his roster.
Hughes used a 5-1 formation during Maryland's opening weekend, and setter Nicole Alford, who transferred from Georgia Tech this offseason, quickly took over as the team's primary setter.
"She's definitely giving us a chance to be a little better in that system," Hughes said. "We still have areas we can improve on, but she definitely gives us a calm demeanor on the court."
Alford paced the Terps with 114 assists in their season-opening weekend in North Carolina, facing Wake Forest, UNC Greensboro and Air Force. In just three matches for Maryland, she has already shouldered a much heavier workload than she did as a Yellow Jacket.
Alford made four starts and had four matches with 20 or more assists as a freshman. The Annapolis native started each match this weekend and compiled a double-double against Air Force with 50 assists and 12 digs.
She said her teammates aided her transition to the Terps offense.
"A lot of the preparation has just come from communication," Alford said. "It's been really fast, so you just have to trust your hitters. … It came a lot from communication, and this weekend I think we saw us connecting really well and executing."
Alford became the first Maryland player to record 50 assists in a match since setter Taylor Smith recorded 52 in 2016, a hiatus reflective of the Terps' revolving door at the position. Smith is one of seven setters to have played there since 2016.
Hughes' utilization of a 5-1 system limits the rotation of Maryland's outside and opposite hitters. Following Aird's departure, opposite hitter Angel Gaskin and former top-30 ranked recruits Gia Milana and Samantha Drechsel all transferred, obliterating Maryland's depth on the pins.
The Terps' heavy reliance on Alford is largely a result of Maryland's offseason overhaul.
"We know [Hughes] trusts us, which makes a difference in having confidence and a good team dynamic," Alford said. "We all gelled really well together, coaches and players. Yeah, it was a little crazy at first, but once we hit the preseason, we were rolling."
Alford said she didn't have much difficulty transitioning to College Park. And after a strong start to her career as a Terp, she looks to continue to provide stability in the new formation.
"Even before I was able to come in and start playing, me and the girls clicked really well," Alford said. "I've always loved the state, and I love being close to home. It's a really great community."