Terrapin sophomore outside hitter Erika Pritchard (9) waits for Minnesota to hit the ball over the net in their game at the Xfinity Center Pavilion, Nov. 16. (Emily Morina/ The Left Bench)

Terps miss NCAA Tournament, turn the table to 2019-2020 season

Maryland volleyball narrowly missed out on the NCAA Tournament, however, the season was filled with milestones and optimism for a bright future.

Entering into this season, there were a lot of question marks surrounding Maryland with the coaching change and the departure of several players due to transfer. Before the season, the Terps were picked to finish second to last in the conference only ahead of Rutgers. Despite this lack of confidence, first-year head coach Adam Hughes and the rest of his staff still maintained confidence in their team.

“Beginning of this season we were trying to figure out, and rightfully so with so much change, how good are we going to be,” Hughes said.

Maryland did not let these doubters define them, finishing 9-11 in the Big Ten – the most wins since joining the conference in 2014. The Terps swept the season series from Iowa, Rutgers and Ohio State, proving the ability to win at home and in hostile environments. The straight-set victory in Columbus on Nov. 10 was Maryland’s first in program history.

Still, the Terps marquee win of the season came Nov. 7 in Ann Arbor when they defeated the No. 15-ranked Michigan Wolverines. The straight-set win marked the first time in program history Maryland defeated a ranked opponent on the road.

In a season filled with change, few outside the program thought the Terps would pull off the upset.

At the conclusion of last season, the Terps were in a similar position on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Head coach Steve Aird led the Terps to their best finish since joining the conference in 2014 at 18-14 and 7-13 in the Big Ten. The team leader in kills, Gia Milana, transferred to Baylor after Aird departed for Indiana, leaving the Terps in need of a young player to step up.

Sophomore outside hitter Erika Pritchard stepped up and led the offense all season. Pritchard was awarded first team all Big Ten- the first Maryland player to be selected since they joined the conference in 2014. She also finished the season leading the conference with an average of 4.32 kills per set, and posting a career-high 31 kills against Iowa on Nov. 23 – the highest for a Terp since 2010.

Only a sophomore, Pritchard figures to be the focal point of the offense for seasons to come. Senior outside hitter Liz Twilley finished second on the team in kills, and provided a constant leadership role throughout the season.

Redshirt freshman Katie Myers bounced back from her persistent knee injuries the past two seasons, leading the Big Ten in service aces. Myers’ combination of pace and location made it difficult for opposing defenses to gameplan for the serve. Sophomore setter Nicole Alford finished the season with over 1000 assists- the first Terps setter to do since 2011. Alford allowed the Terps to become more offensively balanced this season.

“It’s crucial, shoutout Nicole for dishing it out to all of us,” Twilley said.

Youth continued to shine bright for the Terps throughout the season with the freshman trio of Emma Schriner, Rainelle Jones and Allegra Rivas. Rivas finished fourth in the conference in average digs per set, as well as being named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week three times – the first freshman to do so since 2011. Jones provided a strong net-front presence alongside Myers. As the season progressed, Schriner showcased her promise both as a blocker and on offense.

“During practice my mentality has definitely changed,” Jones said. “The team and the coaches, they’re helping me grow up a little bit.”

Disappointed by the final result, Hughes and the rest of the Terps have to be proud about the growth of the young roster providing optimism for a bright future.