Maryland volleyball is embracing the grind of nonconference play

The Maryland volleyball team huddles during its 3-2 win over Howard on Sept. 2, 2019. (Gabby Baniqued/The Diamondback)

In Maryland volleyball’s first set of season, the team reeled off seven straight points against Austin Peay, including six from serves by Taylor Smith. The Terps’ energy was apparent in the run, and they went on to win the match in a clean sweep.

Less than four hours later, their stamina would be tested. The team had to turnaround and compete against Kansas State that night, winning that match in tighter fashion, 3-2.

Before conference play, teams play almost exclusively in weekend tournaments, often forcing them to endure grueling schedules. Maryland will embark on another tournament this weekend in San Antonio for the UTSA Classic, where coach Adam Hughes’ squad is set to play three matches in 36 hours.

“This time of year is really challenging in terms of scheduling,” Hughes said.

[Read more: Maryland volleyball overcame an abundance of serving miscues against Howard]

The team has been preparing for rapid-fire matches all week. With their doubleheader on Saturday, players found themselves worn out, but they were still able to pull off victories against two quality opponents.

“I was a little tired in the second match, especially because it was our first day of games, but it ended up being worth it,” outside hitter Erika Pritchard said.

Last season’s squad was able to win at least two matches in all four of its nonconference tournaments. So, with this year’s team sitting at 3-0 after a successful opening weekend at the Wolfpack Invitational and a tight win over Howard, there’s reason to believe it can thrive amid the arduous slate.

“I give a lot of credit to our training staff for keeping everyone fresh out there,” Hughes said.

[Read more: Erika Pritchard’s dominance propelled Maryland volleyball in its doubleheader sweep]

Maryland remains without co-captain and setter Nicole Alford when it faces UT-Rio Grande Valley, Houston and UT-San Antonio this weekend. Alford is recovering from a preseason foot injury, which kept her out of Maryland’s first three matches. Setter Samantha Snyder has replaced Alford in her absence, but the Terps run a slightly different formation with Snyder, due to their varying skillsets.

Alford led the team with an average of 9.80 assists per set last year, 9 higher than anyone else on the team.

Even without Alford, Pritchard still shined last weekend. She totaled 37 kills between the two matches, and was named co-MVP of the tournament.

After her success in Raleigh, Pritchard is primarily focused on improvement for the upcoming tournament, even as the schedule only toughens from here.

“I need to keep doing what I’ve always been doing,” Pritchard said. “It’s a nice honor, but I just want to keep getting better.”

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