Maryland volleyball had to prepare for a rude welcome when it came home for its final weekend playing in College Park.
The Terps, up against No. 3 Minnesota and No. 7 Wisconsin, had yet to score even 20 points in a set in four matches against top-10 opponents this season.
While the Terps couldn’t pull off a program-defining upset, for the first time this year they showed they can compete with elite competition, scoring 20 points in six of seven sets and even taking the opening frame from the Golden Gophers on Friday.
Like most coaches, Adam Hughes is not one for moral victories. But he recognized that for his young Terps, the weekend still held positives.
“It’s a young group that’s still trying to find where they fit,” Hughes said. “The big thing they’re taking away is that they’re making progress.”
On Friday, the Terps ambushed the Golden Gophers, hitting .242 and taking the first set 25-17. While Minnesota came back and took the next three sets, stealing a frame from one of the top five teams in the country was a sign of the growth Maryland has shown in the recent weeks.
“Last time we played them, we were around in the first set and then kind of missed a few opportunities late,” Hughes said. “We had the same thing against Michigan where we were around, took a set and built some belief.”
The young Terps have been forced to grow up fast. Of the five players to appear in every set this season, four are underclassmen.
Middle blocker Rainelle Jones, a freshman, showed her increasing comfort level in the college game in the final home weekend. Against two of the Big Ten’s best teams, Jones recorded 14 kills with just one error and six blocks. Earlier this year against No. 6 Illinois, Jones paired four kills with four errors and one block.
“During practice, my mentality definitely changed,” Jones said. “Everyone in the team and the coaches are trying to help me change my mentality and grow up a little bit.”
Maryland is still a win short of the 18 it racked up last season. Yet the Terps still have a strong NCAA tournament resume.
Their eight Big Ten wins are even more impressive after the turnover in the offseason; first with the departure of coach Steve Aird and then with the transfer of four upperclassmen. So, the showings against Minnesota and Wisconsin were promising signs for the tournament contenders.
“Beginning of this season, we were trying to figure out, and rightfully so, ‘How good are we going to be?’” Hughes said. “We had some unfortunate losses at the beginning of the season and I think that was part of the growing pains.”