Maryland volleyball outside hitter Erika Pritchard arrived in College Park this summer as the No. 29-ranked recruit by PrepVolleyball, but she knew she still had a lot to learn.
“Just having that coachable aspect,” Pritchard said. “That was my part. Constantly learn, get better every day. The usual stuff.”
Pritchard’s willingness to seek help from older players, especially sophomore outside hitter Gia Milana, has helped her adjust to the speed of college volleyball.
Through two tournaments, Pritchard leads Maryland’s attack with 77 kills and 13 service aces. At this weekend’s Liberty Invitational, Pritchard earned MVP for another milestone in the Terps’ 6-0 start to the season. In wins over Liberty, Elon and Furman, she hit at least 13 kills while hitting above .300.
Her success early in the year stems from coach Steve Aird’s advice.
“Just like coach said, going high hand, hitting the spots that you want and deep corners,” Pritchard said.
In practice, Pritchard seeks out libero Kelsey Wicinski to receive guidance on serving drills. Milana has also been one of Pritchard’s main mentors.
During the Liberty Invitational, Milana offered reminders about practice tips and delivered encouraging words. Milana also made the all-tournament team while notching the second-most kills on the squad through the first two weekends.
“[Milana’s] been managing the ball well,” Wicinski said. “So, if the set’s not there she’s been keeping it in play so we can continue to play it out, and I think that’s rubbing on Erika a little bit. Also, just that they are the same position, they talk a little bit about blocking and hitting, and they’re always giving each other feedback.”
But Pritchard’s early success doesn’t distract Aird from what she still has to learn.
Her .25 blocks per set rank lowest among outside hitters with more than a set played this year, and while she leads the squad with 13 service aces, her eight errors rank second-most.
“My job is not to tell her how good she [is]. My job is to find the stuff she’s not good at and fix it,” Aird said. “She does some things at a really elite level, but I’m going to be very particular about working on her all-around game. She’s an exciting player to watch … and she has a really bright future.”
Aird caught a glimpse of what was to come in late April when Pritchard competed with her club team, Metro Volleyball Club of D.C., during the Girls’ Junior National Championships in Dallas. Aird had a feeling Pritchard would contribute right away.
But Maryland’s coaching staff wasn’t sure how the Terps, featuring 12 underclassmen, would react on their first road tournament of the season. Pritchard, though, admitted participating in travel programs eased tensions.
“The good news is for every tool we give [Pritchard] and help her acquire,” Aird said, “she becomes more lethal.”