Before Maryland volleyball’s 2019 season began, coach Adam Hughes was clear about where he wanted his team to be come December: playing in their first NCAA tournament since 2005.
The Terps entered the year on the heels of their first back-to-back winning seasons since 2006. Despite coach Steve Aird leaving for Indiana following the 2017 campaign, Hughes had built expectations. In 2018, Maryland went 18-14, and notched their first road win against a ranked team in program history when they swept then No. 15-Michigan in straight sets.
But a bevy of injuries helped sidetrack that progress. First it was setter Nicole Alford, a team captain who enabled Maryland to run a 5-1 rotation. From there, nagging setbacks affected libero Allegra Rivas and middle blocker Katie Myers.
So despite lofty expectations at the onset of the season, losing three of their best players for stretches sidetracked the Terps’ chances and left them dragging toward the end of the campaign, a five-match losing streak putting the finishing touches on a 13-19 year.
In all five of Maryland’s conference wins, Alford, Rivas and Myers were on the floor at the same time; when one or more were missing, though, the Terps went 0-7 in Big Ten play.
“It’s something we have to work through, and that’s kind of been a theme of the season for us — constant adversity with injuries,” Hughes said.
Maryland significantly hurt its tournament chances when it dropped two nonconference matchups without Alford to sub-.500 teams UT Rio Grande Valley and George Mason. Even when Alford returned, her team hovered around a .500 record.
But before too long, the dominoes started to fall once more, with Alford suffering an injury against No. 4 Wisconsin on Oct. 30. Myers joined the senior on the sideline after suffering a foot injury.
And by the time Alford and Myers rejoined the lineup, Rivas found herself out of the rotation, sustaining a concussion that ended her season.
In the end, the inconsistent lineup was too much of a challenge for Maryland.
“With the injuries, there’s been a lot of changing up of lineups and different people so it was really hard to ever find a rhythm,” Alford said. “We’re definitely disappointed in the final result, but we’re using it as motivation for the future.”
Those injuries exacerbated the struggles against ranked foes, an issue that’s been glaring since the Terps joined the Big Ten. They finished 0-9 in top-25 matchups — dropping Hughes’ record in ranked contests to 1-18 — with each coming in conference play.
Hughes’ squad won two sets against ranked foes the entire year — both coming against Penn State in a five-set defeat Oct. 11.
By mid-November, the players knew the tournament goals couldn’t be met without a ranked win, so thoughts began to shift toward improvement for coming years.
“Obviously, our expectations from the beginning of the year are not going to be met,” Myers said. “We’re trying to build on the end of this year, so we can carry some momentum into next season.”
In a near-constant injured state, Maryland couldn’t get over the hump of the Big Ten. But the team takes solace in some areas of growth, including a breakout season from Myers. The redshirt sophomore from Westerville, Ohio, filled up the stat sheet while preseason All-Big Ten outside hitter Erika Pritchard saw her numbers fade this season.
Myers finished fourth in the Big Ten in both blocks and hitting percentage. On Wednesday, she was named to the All-Big Ten First Team, showing the development she’s made since missing most of her first two seasons with knee injuries.
“She’s put in a lot of work,” Hughes said, “so I’m glad she’s seeing the results.”
Freshman outside hitter Rebekah Rath also chipped in heavily, appearing in all 127 sets for the team. Rath finished third in kills and fourth in service aces for the team.
“[Rath] works her butt off in practice every single day,” Myers said. “We’re asking her to do a lot as a freshman and she is doing really well.”
And with a European tour — headlined by a matchup against an Italian national team that finished second in the 2018 World Championships — on the horizons in June 2020, the Terps will be looking to build off improved performances from players such as Myers and Rath.
Although injuries hindered Maryland’s success this year, coaches and players still feel they are set up well for the future. The Terps are returning seven of their eight players who played more than 100 sets this season.
So into the offseason, Hughes will look to brush off a disappointing 13-19 campaign in favor of focusing on what’s to come.
“We need to keep going as a program,” Hughes said. “While this season is officially done, the clock has started for next year and every day matters.”