Maryland volleyball coach Steve Aird has leaned on the scoring ability of freshman outside hitter Gia Milana this season.
The highest-rated recruit in Terps history is already the primary attacking option on a squad that features 10 underclassmen. Through 18 matches, she leads the team with 245 kills.
But without another consistent hitter in the lineup, opposing teams have made it a focus to limit her production. In a straight set loss to Iowa on Sept. 28, Milana accounted for 43 percent of Maryland’s total attacks but converted just 12 kills.
Since that defeat, Aird has started outside hitter Liz Twilley to give the Terps an additional attacking threat. Even so, he acknowledged his squad would continue to “set [Milana] until her arm falls off” in order to compete.
“We have two top-50 recruits in our program,” Aird said, referring to Milana and injured middle blocker Katie Myers. “One is playing and one is not. The other teams know that, and so they focus on her.”
Milana has displayed improvement in the three matches since Twilley entered the starting lineup. After a 3-1 loss to then-No.21 Michigan State on Saturday night, Aird praised her mature play and said she “just keeps getting better.”
In her first three Big Ten contests, which Twilley did not start, Milana recorded just 26 combined kills. But against then-No. 24 Illinois, then-No. 23 Michigan and Michigan State, she recorded 53 combined kills, including a career-best 21 against the Spartans.
Milana was responsible for about 34 percent of the Terps’ total attacks over that span, a slight increase from her season average of 32.7 percent. So while the team once again struggled to establish an offensive balance, she became more efficient with her opportunities.
The Romeo, Michigan, native has been used more often than any other attacker in Aird’s three-year tenure in College Park.
Before this season, the biggest share of total attacks by a single player under Aird was 27 percent. That mark was set by outside hitters Ashleigh Crutcher and Adreené Elliott, then seniors, in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
Milana isn’t bothered with being responsible for about one-third of Maryland’s attacks as a freshman. She said she wants to do whatever is necessary to help the team win, even if that means taking on a large workload in her first season with the program.
“I don’t really think about it that much,” she said. “I just play volleyball.”