Maryland volleyball is 5-1, but coach Steve Aird wants more from his team

Before Maryland volleyball coach Steve Aird arrived at practice Wednesday, players took turns working on serve receptions. Each time someone made an error, the whole team dropped to the court and completed a set of push-ups.

Aird called the Terps’ work ethic the best it’s been since he was hired in 2014. Even when he isn’t around, he trusts his players to train hard.

Yet he said Maryland’s 5-1 record – and all the effort put in so far – means nothing if players ever stop striving to make constant improvements. So he cranked up the intensity this week in practice, hoping his team will be able to reach an even higher level of play this weekend against Princeton, Towson and Georgetown in the Georgetown Classic.

“We’ve got a lot more gears in us,” Aird said. “My job as a coach is to try and find those gears.”

The Terps lifted weights and practiced for more than two hours per day this week, said middle blocker Hailey Murray. That workload, along with the intense atmosphere Airdhas created in practice, represents a change for freshmen accustomed to a less demanding environment.

Setter Taylor Smith said the difference in intensity between high school practices and what she has experienced at this university has been beneficial to her development. She ranks second on the team with 88 assists and started all three sets in the Terps’ loss at No. 4 Kansas last weekend.

While past coaches would sugarcoat her flaws and let her coast through practice, Smith said Aird has been upfront about what she needs to work on.

“That helps because … you know what you didn’t do as well, ” Smith said.

Less experienced players like Smith have also looked to Murray, a third-year starter, to provide a different kind of leadership. In contrast to Aird’s critical approach, the middle blocker has focused on keeping younger teammates upbeat.

“I’m really big on keeping them happy,” Murray said. “You really have to tell everybody it’s OK because we’re all going to have down matches and down practices, but it’s important to bounce back. Helping them learn how to do that has been really important to me.”

Murray still acknowledged that the current competitive practice environment is necessary to “get the new guys in the mix and comfortable with everything that’s going on.”

And after the Terps played in front of a season-high crowd of 1,302 people lat Friday night in Lawrence, Kansas, players hope to maintain a high level of energy in this weekend’s Georgetown Classic.

“It was nice to have that adrenaline boost before the [Kansas] game,” Smith said. “Now we’re talking about having that adrenaline for the games where the arenas aren’t quite like that.”

Aird also talked with players about maintaining an edge this weekend. The Terps have lost once in six matches, but their energetic coach wants more.

“I’d like us to continue to play with a chip on our shoulder,” Aird said. “We haven’t accomplished a thing yet.”

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