With a new coach and an extremely young roster, the expectations were not very high for Maryland volleyball entering this season. However, the Terps have started the season 10-5 and look to build on their early season success further into conference play.
Senior outside hitter Liz Twilley and senior defensive specialist Abigail Bentz are doing their best to guide the young roster, both on and off the court.
“We definitely feel like we need to take a leadership role as seniors and help show the way. “We’ve been here for a while,” Twilley said.
“Especially on the road, it’s easy to tell the underclassmen, ‘Here’s where the band’s going to be, here’s where the student section is going to be,’ and let everyone know how it’s going to be,” Bentz said.
Leadership was particularly challenging this offseason with the departure of former Head coach Steve Aird and the promotion of Adam Hughes. The toughest period was when there was a sense of unknown surrounding who the next coach would be. Bentz and Twilley knew it was vital to provide a sense of security for everyone in this difficult period. In addition to a new coach, the Terps lost five players who transferred entering this season.
“We had to keep it steady, we had to stay level-headed keeping everyone on the same page focusing on the season,” Twilley said.
“As seniors we emphasized over-communicating how everyone felt, what they were thinking during that time,” Bentz said.
Once Hughes was named head coach, taking leadership was not a difficult transition. In fact, Hughes had a unique approach compared to many other coaches, making it easier for the seniors to take leadership.
“More so than other coaches that I’ve had, he emphasizes us taking the reigns and us really leading the team instead of him,” Bentz said. “The way he is as a coach, really gives us the opportunity of having the power to take leadership of the team.”
Hughes has been impressed with their leadership so far particularly in the middle of matches during timeouts, while the coaches are strategizing and the players have their own huddle.
“The older players are definitely talking to the younger players,” Hughes said. “They help each other a lot about look for this, or look at what I see.”
Going into this season, the seniors did not feel that one piece of advice was more important than another, there were several important ideas to remember. One of the most important pieces of advice is realizing that Big Ten play requires you to grow up fast. Providing this guidance is not always easy, finding the fine line between encouraging the underclassmen but also identifying when they’re doing something wrong.
“It’s a really tough balance as a leader between empathy and tough love, because you don’t want to baby them and tell them everything is okay when a lot of stuff is not okay playing in the Big Ten,” Bentz said.
“Other teams don’t care if you’re young or nervous. It’s a time when you have to grow up,” Twilley said.
Entering their freshman season at Maryland, both Twilley and Bentz did not really discuss how to get through their nerves at the time. However, they realized it’s paramount for the current underclassmen.
“It was kind of a like a taboo topic at the time, if you’re nervous, you’re supposed to be nervous,” Bentz said. “I feel like we’ve grown as a team to talk about our feelings, talk about being nervous – something that I wish we had [as freshman].”
Everyone experiences nerves playing in the ultra competitive Big Ten conference, but no one really discusses how to get through these nerves. Bentz and Twilley wanted to put an end to this, emphasizing communication both on and off the court.
“I feel like it’s also important for them to know that their nerves and whatever they’re feeling we’ve all gone through,” Twilley said. “Make sure to tell them to communicate to us don’t feel scared to say how you feel.”
Bentz and Twilley’s leadership will continue to be relied on as the team is about to enter the heart of Big Ten conference play.