When Maryland volleyball left to face No. 15 Michigan on Wednesday, it had five matches remaining in the regular season and needed two wins to secure its best-ever Big Ten record since joining the conference in 2014.
But the Terps faced an uphill battle. They still had to face three top-ten ranked opponents. Maryland had never won a match on the road against Michigan or Ohio State, and it would play both teams in consecutive contests.
However, Maryland put together a historic road trip, winning its first road match against a ranked opponent before securing its eighth Big Ten win this season, setting a new high. After offseason turnover left the Terps with a young team and first-year coach, the two road wins displayed the growth the program has made this season.
“I’m incredibly happy for the seniors to be able to come here and win on the road,” coach Adam Hughes said.
Following former coach Steve Aird’s decision to accept a position at Indiana, a slew of his high-level recruits departed, among them All-American outside hitters Gia Milana and Samantha Drechsel. That left Hughes, who had served on Aird’s staff since 2014, scrambling to find transfers and late recruits to fill out his roster.
Despite that, the Terps have exceeded expectations, losing only three nonconference matches and just one match to an unranked opponent in conference play, even with five underclassmen appearing in every set during the Big Ten slate.
“It’s been fun to watch the group mature,” Hughes said. “In the beginning of the season we lost some five-gamers because we couldn’t execute when things were tight.”
While Maryland’s team looks quite different than last year’s squad, the memory of narrowly missing the NCAA tournament still lingers. The team hosted a watch party at Old Maryland Grill at The Hotel at the University of Maryland, but ESPNU listed the Terps as one of the first four teams left out of the field.
The Terps’ postseason aspirations were explicit from the outset of this season.
“This group always had the intention of seeing if they could make a run at making the tournament,” Hughes said. “When you have a focus like that, it makes things a little bit easier because you can just look at one match at a time and focus on taking care of business.”
While Maryland has had its eye on the tournament all season, both the coaches and the players have acknowledged the need to focus on the next match, knowing that prolonged success is the only sure way into postseason action.
So as the Terps work hard to stay in the moment, the tournament still looms large in the near future. Despite the attempts to not look too far ahead, Maryland’s tournament aspirations are appearing more and more attainable.
“It’s easy to look ahead and start looking at the tournament, I mean, obviously it’s an end goal,” setter Nicole Alford said. “But you have to take it one game at a time and it’s been our focus since day one of the preseason.”