Maryland volleyball displayed improved depth in loss to No. 4 Kansas

Maryland volleyball middle blocker Hailey Murray said the team’s depth this season has made her feel like she’s part of a family.

Through the first six games of the campaign, every player except for injured middle blocker Katie Myers has played in at least one set. With the whole team capable of making contributions, Murray believes the Terps are well equipped to handle their difficult schedule.

In Maryland’s first head-to-head matchup against a ranked opponent this past weekend — and one of 13 preseason top 25 teams it will play this year — the squad lost to No. 4 Kansas in straight sets.

Even so, the Terps used 10 players against the Jayhawks, emphasizing the numerous options coach Steve Aird can lean on going forward.

“We’re at a point where every single person on our team is a really important piece of the puzzle,” Murray said. “Every person on the team is very capable of playing in this conference and that’s really important.”

Freshmen have been a key part of Aird’s player rotation this year. Outside hitter Gia Milana has started all six games, and Aird said Myers will compete for a spot in the starting lineup when she recovers from her knee injury.

In addition, freshman setter Taylor Smith ranks second on the team with 88 assists.

In the Kansas game, four freshmen played in all three sets. That helped players build trust with one another, as upperclassmen saw their younger counterparts handling pressure well.

“All of the freshmen that had not been in a big environment like that were fine and no one was completely shocked by it,” senior middle blocker Ashlyn MacGregor said. “[Our depth] helps a lot. It creates less pressure on the rest of the team because you know if you’re not having a good game there’s someone else … who can come in and help out.”

She added that “it’s honestly nice to … let other people try and get points for the team” after being a part of a much thinner Terps squad over the past couple of seasons.

Sophomore libero Kelsey Wicinski said tough games like the one against the Jayhawks have helped the Terps bond. She also said she feels more comfortable playing on the road this year after competing in challenging matches last season.

In turn, the Geneva, Illinois, native has tried to assist this year’s newcomers as they come across difficult situations. Before the Kansas game, she talked to freshmen about what it would be like to play in a packed gym with a loud band.

That kind of communication is a large reason why players have called chemistry a strong point for this team.

“We trust each other,” Murray said. “The new incoming kids are not just great athletes but great humans.”

Aird intends to continue rotating players this upcoming weekend in the Georgetown Classic as he looks to find an ideal starting lineup. But he’s excited by what he has seen from the 5-1 Terps so far.

“We’re still giving people experience, and the young kids proved that they can play at a high level in a big time environment,” Aird said. “I had a feeling that was the case when we recruited them, and it was nice to see them come through in a big-time match.”

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