After Zoe Huang’s serve careened against the Xfinity Center Pavilion hardwood for a match-opening ace, the sophomore setter celebrated with her teammates as the Maryland faithful showered her with applause.
Huang’s ace was the catalyst of a match rife with captivating rallies by newcomers and returning starters alike as Maryland volleyball gave fans their first look at the program’s new squad in the 2022 Red-White scrimmage.
Coach Adam Hughes consistently swapped players from team-to-team, giving fans a look at which lineups produce Maryland’s most formidable lineup as the two teams played to a 2-2 tie across four sets at the Pavilion on Saturday night.
“We host our first weekend, which is a nice advantage for us, so we’re just trying to get used to it and get some feel for what [the regular season] is going to be,” Hughes said.
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Returning faces Sam Csire, Milan Gomillion and Sydney Dowler looked primed to build on their 2021 seasons, while young underclassmen Laila Ivey and Ellie Watson flashed their potential as possible key contributors in 2022.
The squad’s showing at this year’s scrimmage leaves three key takeaways:
Laila Ivey gives the Terps another offensive weapon
Laila Ivey introduced herself to the Maryland faithful with a dazzling offensive display, showcasing her sky-high vertical leap early and often.
The true-freshman made her mark in the opening frame for the white team, connecting on four kills to lead all players in the set and finished with a match-high 12 kills across the four sets.
“Pretty nervous at first, [being] my first time playing in ‘The Pav’,” Ivey said, “but I think my teammates really calmed me down. After the first fifteen points I started to calm down and just play my game.”
Ivey routinely displayed her versatility when attacking, as she carved through the defense with an array of punishing putaways offset by well-placed, softer kills. The outside hitter was not only a force from the outside, but from the service line as well, pouring in a trio of aces in the first set.
“I think she’s someone who could have a really bright future here,” said Hughes. “She’s got a great, competitive nature to her, she wants to be elite, and we’re excited that she’s just getting started.”
In need of a replacement for outside hitter Paula Neciporuka, Maryland could see Ivey emerge as a catalyst to the offense in 2022 and beyond.
Returning starters anchored the Terps on the evening
While returning standouts like Rainelle Jones and Sam Csire each displayed their dominance throughout the contest, it was sophomore middle blocker Ellie Waston who caught Hughes’ eye with her play throughout the night.
“She’s become very versatile,” Hughes said. “I think that’s really helped us as a program…she’s making it challenging for us every day at practice, and we’ve got a nice little competition there.”
After playing in only four sets last season, Watson shined in her role paying for both sides Saturday night. She contributed a solo block and a pair of block assists, as well as a handful of putaways and digs.
One of Watson’s most notable plays came for the white team in the final set when she stonewalled an Anastasia Russ attack with a block that put her squad ahead, 9-6.
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Csire made her presence felt with a barrage of attacks from the left side. The junior outside hitter came out firing with a flurry of first-set putaways for the white team and continued to slice through the defense with three quick kills early in the fourth set that helped the white team to an 18-16 victory.
Jones, the reigning national leader in blocks per set, was primarily an offensive force — she contributed only one block assist on the night. She wasted no time inflicting damage on the opposing side’s block, sending a kill over the net early in the first set for the red team to ignite her strong showing.
The Terps are still finding their groove ahead of the season opener
While the impressive showings from players like Ivey and Watson were encouraging, Hughes noted his team has yet to peak as the season looms.
“I don’t think they were very clean tonight, but this is our third match in about 36 hours,” he said. “One of the things we have with our non-conference schedule is that we play three matches in two days, so we’re trying to mimic that a little bit.”
The two teams committed 47 errors and finished with a hitting percentage well below .200, but each showed hustle throughout the evening.
Sophomore libero Milan Gomillion routinely sprawled on the hardwood, keeping rallies alive with a bevy of digs for the white team, while freshman Ally Williams stood tall in the face of Ivey and Csire attacks in the third set that ultimately led to a pair of points for the red team.
Hughes commended his team’s efforts despite the miscues, emphasizing their grit and toughness throughout the contest.
“I know it wasn’t the cleanest product, but at the same time I thought they played really hard from the front end to the back end.”