Midway through Maryland volleyball’s match against then-No. 1 Nebraska on Oct. 29, Sam Csire found herself in an unfamiliar spot in Maryland volleyball’s rotation: out of it.

The Terps’ leading scorer looked on from the sidelines amid Maryland’s 3-0 shellacking at the hands of the nation’s top team.

On the stat sheet, Maryland’s ugly loss marked a forgettable outing for Csire. A season-low four kills smeared by seven attack errors forced coach Adam Hughes to play without his junior outside hitter. 

The demotion, albeit temporary, marked another hiccup in Csire’s transition from a dependable scoring option as an underclassman to becoming Maryland’s go-to playmaker this season.

“It’s been tough because I’m not used to that pressure,” she said. “As I’ve kind of gotten used to it, I’ve been able to feed that energy off to other teammates.”

But Csire’s performance could’ve been due to illness. She battled the flu in the days leading up to the match, making stepping onto the court tough for her.

“I felt I couldn’t give full hundred percent,” she said. “So [coach Adam Hughes] told me [to] give what I can … if I was 50 percent, try to give it 51 percent … I want to be able to have my role every game.”

Csire’s gutsiness to suit up despite her condition revealed more about her status as a leader to Hughes than her numbers that night suggested. 

“I was proud of her for that level of [competitiveness],” he said. “She wanted to give it a go. She didn’t ask to get herself out of there. She wanted to see if she could make it happen.”

[Maryland volleyball’s defense stepped up without two of its best blockers]

Since that forgettable evening in Lincoln, Nebraska, Csire’s rebounded to look like the outside threat the Terps envisioned her becoming this season. She’s pummeled 28 kills across the Terps’ last two matches, including 15 against a then-No. 15 Penn State squad on Nov. 2.

Her apparent physical rejuvenation on the court has been supplemented by a steady balance of introspection off the hardwood.

“I’m working a lot on my mental game,” Csire said. “Realizing that I have that pressure and kind of taking it on instead of being scared of it and scared to make mistakes.”

Just two weeks after her performance against the Cornhuskers, Csire has two more chances to captain Maryland through a treacherous terrain of top-10 competition.

The Terps battle No. 9 Minnesota in Minneapolis on Friday before a showdown with No. 3 Wisconsin in Madison the following night. 

Maryland is winless all-time against the Golden Gophers but has tasted success against a top-level Badgers squad in the past – a win Csire was right in the middle of.

She led the Terps with 17 kills, including the match-sealing putaway in the fifth frame, in Maryland’s upset over then-No. 2 Wisconsin last season in College Park.

Csire and the Terps are determined to prove that last season’s result wasn’t a fluke in their first matchup with the defending national champion Badgers since that historic upset .

“We earned it,” she said. “It’s not one of those … lucky wins [where] Wisconsin didn’t play as well. I think we played well, they played well and we can do it again.”

This season, Csire’s produced mixed results in her cluster of opportunities to take charge for the Terps in ranked matchups.

[Maryland volleyball snaps seven-match home losing streak with 3-1 win over Iowa]

Against the then-No. 3 Cornhuskers on Oct. 2, she led Maryland with 14 kills, though it came at the expense of a career-high 18 attack errors in the Terps’ 3-1 loss. 

But the junior shined two Sundays later in West Lafayette when she mashed 12 spikes with just seven errors in the Terps’ upset over then-No. 9 Purdue – their first win against a top-10 program since joining the Big Ten. She followed that up with 16 more kills against the then-No. 13 Nittany Lions’ defense in the teams’ first match on Oct. 21.

Csire credited the strides she’s made this season to Hughes, who has helped her become comfortable taking charge in pressure-packed situations. And even through struggles, the coach has seen her maturation.

“I just see her realizing that she is capable of … playing at that level and being that type of leader that the team needs,” Hughes said. “She’s grown a tremendous amount this year.”

As the Terps’ window to spark a late-season surge narrows, Csire knows she will be called on repeatedly. But with chances to further prove herself as a leader, she isn’t ducking in the shadows from the challenges that will greet her.

“I have to get used to playing at my best when I’m not feeling my best,” Csire said. “Just for the team’s sake, I have to kind of take a step back and realize it’s not about me, it’s about how I can help the team and the coaches.”