When the Maryland volleyball team fell, 3-2, to No. 24 Illinois on Sunday to extend its losing skid to five games, coach Steve Aird gave his players a familiar message.
He told them to be upset about the loss for just 30 minutes. After that, he said, it was time to get back to work.
Aird learned the approach from Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who preaches moving on from both victories and defeats in order to prepare for the next challenge.
So while the Terps’ narrow loss to the Fighting Illini was frustrating, players were quick to get over the result. The improvements the squad displayed throughout the match made moving on easier.
“I don’t like losing,” Aird said. “But it’s hard to watch that match and not be excited about how the youngsters are getting better.”
Maryland won two sets against Illinois, snapping a streak of 22 consecutive set losses against ranked opponents dating back to last year.
The Terps had set points in two of the three frames they lost, including the decisive fifth set. Aird said he hopes that disappointment will teach players how to succeed in tight games later in the season.
“To win a match like this you might have to [have] been in a couple matches like this to know how to get it done,” Aird said.
The coach said his squad played well against the Fighting Illini. He was pleased the team improved on its stale offensive performance against Iowa on Wednesday and said he felt his younger starters showed their potential.
Aird specifically praised the effort of freshman outside hitter Gia Milana, who struggled in Big Ten matches against No. 2 Minnesota, No. 3 Wisconsin and Iowa. She led the Terps with 16 kills and posted a .229 hit percentage against Illinois, both conference-highs for her.
Though Milana entered this season as the highest-rated recruit in program history, Aird said he has been careful not to place pressure on her. Teams plan around her hitting ability, so he knows she will struggle at times. As long as Milana keeps improving, though, Aird said he doesn’t mind it when she has bad games.
“She’s going to be a really great player in this league, but you can’t just roll out of a club or high school and start dominating this conference,” Aird said.
Milana said she holds high expectations for herself on the court, which Aird said would help her reach her potential. Though she led the Terps in kills against the Fighting Illini, she acknowledged she still has “a lot of things to work on.”
The Romeo, Michigan, native explained she must improve on converting broken plays to “get kills at really tough times for the team.”
“I’m just going to go back in the gym and keep working hard every day so I can clean up mistakes,” Milana said. “Coach tells us every day to get 1 percent better.”
That mentality, which emphasizes consistent improvement regardless of the team’s result, has been key to the Terps’ development this season. After almost beating the Fighting Illini on Sunday, Aird said he hopes his team can carry positive momentum into this weekend’s matches at No. 23 Michigan and No. 21 Michigan State.
“I’d like to get to the point where we’re competitive with teams like [Illinois] all the time,” Aird said.