Summer practices are hard for Maryland volleyball coach Adam Hughes.
Monotonous preseason practices and budding anticipation intensifies the team’s thirst for competition. Intrasquad scrimmages can also blur a team’s identity by concealing its strengths and weaknesses.
“If you’re serving well, you know, maybe your passing looks terrible. If you’re passing well, maybe your serving’s terrible,” he said last week. “You really can’t tell until you see somebody else.”
Maryland’s first three games of the season on Friday and Saturday delivered a sample of what may come in 2023, but it gave Hughes a long-awaited glimpse of how his squad stacks up against an outside opponent.
Now, the fun begins for the Terps’ head coach.
“The chase is now on,” Hughes said after the Terps swept Lamar on Saturday to cap off a 2-1 showing at the Canes Classic Tournament in Coral Gables, Florida. “This is probably my favorite week of practice.”
Hughes and his staff have a lot to unpack from Maryland’s first three games, which included a win over Florida International and a loss to Miami on Friday ahead of Saturday’s victory.
The Terps showcased their depth in all three matches. Friday’s contests featured the identical starting lineups, but Hughes often tinkered with his in-game rotations in an attempt to gain an upper hand during a game of closely-contested sets, five of which were decided by three points or fewer.
In Maryland’s second game on Friday, freshman libero Jonna Spohn came off the bench to help stymie a scorching Miami offense after the Hurricanes zipped 17 kills past the Terps without committing an error in the first frame.
Spohn notched three digs and two aces in her collegiate debut as Maryland came within two points of forcing a decisive fifth set after falling behind 2-0.
“She is really scrappy,” Hughes said. “I thought she did a pretty good job coming in in a tough spot.”
Spohn’s performance hinted at her potential to be a reliable contributor at libero behind Lilly Gunter, who started at the position in all three matches.
Saturday was less turbulent for the Terps. Maryland scored the first 11 points of the opening set in Saturday’s match against Lamar and cruised to a 3-0 sweep.
Hughes squeezed all 16 of his players into the game, which allowed players who saw less time on Friday to improve their stock, particularly on offense.
Senior right side hitter Laila Ricks started in place of Samantha Schnitta and led the Terps with 12 kills against the Cardinals in her first action this season, while freshman Sydney Bryant added seven kills at outside hitter in her first appearance for Maryland.
The Terps’ depth may put playing time at a premium for some players, but Gunter views it as a luxury.
“It’s really great to have people in every position because, first of all, it adds competition in our gym to push each other to prepare for games,” she said. “It’s great because at any given moment, we’re going to need people to step up and I think everyone showed that [Saturday].”
Gunter, a senior who transferred from Mississippi State, is a key player for the Terps as they grow into a more complete defensive team, something Hughes emphasized before the season and reiterated after the tournament.
Gunter led Maryland in digs in all three matches in Coral Gables. The rallies she prolonged allowed the Terps’ offense to play quicker than normal.
Maryland averaged 13.5 kills per set throughout the tournament, “a good number,” according to Hughes, who wants the Terps to be “a little bit more offensive” this season after they clocked just 11.4 kills per set in 2022.
Freshman middle blocker Eva Rohrbach also helped speed Maryland up by creating offensive opportunities in transition.
“That’s a wrinkle we really didn’t have last year,” Hughes said.
Rohrbach was one of the Terps least affected by the flip-flopping lineups in Coral Gables. She started all three matches along with Gunter, Sydney Dowler, Sam Csire and Anastasia Russ. That leaves two starting spots for Hughes to adjust during the Terps’ next tournament in Annapolis.
While Maryland’s first three games didn’t solidify the Terps’ lineup moving forward, Gunter is ready to compete—regardless of who she takes the court with.
“I think we know going forward that we’re going to be playing really tough competition,” she said. “I think that everyone’s excited to keep growing and coming together and being stronger.”