After four of Maryland volleyball’s top five attacking options departed the program, outside hitter Erika Pritchard remained. And now, as the Terps’ top pin hitter, Pritchard has stepped up in Maryland’s 5-1 start to the season, including a sweep of its tournament in Akron this weekend.
Pritchard registered a double-double in each of the three matches, totaling 56 kills and hitting over .450 twice. She now leads the Big Ten in total kills with 100 and is second in kills per set at 4.76.
The sophomore has featured as the Terps’ primary front-line attacker, leading them in kills in four of the team’s six matches. Last season, Pritchard notched 331 kills as a second option to outside hitter Gia Milana, who transferred to Baylor in the offseason.
While an outgoing transfer elevated Pritchard to top of the rotation, she credited a new transfer, setter Nicole Alford, for her standout weekend in Ohio.
“I finally clicked with my setter Nicole against Akron,” Pritchard said. “I finally got in a rhythm and from there it was really easy to hit off her balls.”
So far this year, Pritchard has been the Terps’ most prolific attacker, and numerous other players have filled in around her. Outside hitter Liz Twilley had a breakout match against Canisius, totalling 11 kills. Twilley, a senior, totalled just four kills in eight matches last season.
While Pritchard has been consistent from open play, her biggest shortfall this season has been her serving game. She has made 10 service errors with just two aces. Pritchard said she is trying to stay positive and focus on fundamentals from the service line.
“We are definitely not focusing on the errors,” Pritchard said. “We are just doing what we do in practice, and it’s just more knowing in our minds that we can serve it over and be more aggressive.”
Last year, Pritchard showed she can be a force from the endline, hitting a conference-high 48 aces.
Twilley echoed Pritchard, saying that the Terps are attempting to carry over their work in practice into their matches.
“We just want to keep fighting as a team and a unit,” Twilley said. “We are trying to implement what we have been working hard on in practice.”
As a team, Maryland has also struggled to limit unforced errors from the endline. This weekend, the Terps had 16 service aces but made 21 service errors. It was one of the lone areas in which Maryland struggled.
Coach Adam Hughes said that while the statline is important, Maryland’s coaching staff is not solely focused on the outcomes of each serve.
“It’s tough, and we don’t always just look at the end result of aces versus errors,” Hughes said. “Sometimes we just look person by person. Some people I’m okay with them going for some home run swings and striking out once in awhile and there’s other people who are just putting it in play and playing tactically.”
Pritchard has thrived when Maryland has had a chance to enter its offensive sets this season, limiting the need for as many aces. Once Big Ten play begins, the Terps may need to take more chances at the service line to steal points from some of the nation’s top programs.
But in the meantime, Hughes believes Pritchard has yet to hit her ceiling.
“Erika has got the potential to be a really special player,” Hughes said. “She showed some of that potential this weekend.”