Maryland volleyball led Florida Gulf Coast by two points late in the fifth set of Saturday’s match when pin hitter Samantha Schnitta rose for a crucial block assist to put the Terps on the brink of a win.
On the bench cheering her on was Laila Ricks, whom coach Adam Hughes had subbed out in favor of Schnitta to try and reignite Maryland’s sputtering offense. Amid the Terps’ celebration, Schnitta acknowledged Ricks’ excitement and reciprocated by pointing toward the sideline at her jubilant teammate.
Maryland secured the winning point moments later to end its nonconference season with what Hughes labeled a “signature victory” over an Eagles team that qualified for the NCAA tournament last season.
That moment between Schnitta and Ricks encapsulated Maryland’s ample depth and thriving chemistry — two reasons why the Terps are 10-2 and entering Big Ten play on a six-game winning streak.
“That’s the stuff that goes a long way,” Hughes said.
Ricks started all but five of Maryland’s 32 matches last year and was a steady contributor on both the attack and block.
But since Schnitta transferred from Ole Miss, Ricks’ starting role has been less secure. Schnitta’s powerful left-handed swing makes her a unique threat on the attack compared to the right-handed Ricks.
The two players have split time at opposite hitter this season — Ricks has started seven matches to Schnitta’s five — and are flourishing in the shared role. Schnitta and Ricks are second and fourth on the team in kills per set, respectively, and have combined for more than a quarter of the Terps’ blocks.
Maryland’s depth extends beyond its complementary hitters in Schnitta and Ricks. That has allowed Hughes to tinker with an array of rotations while keeping his players fresh.
Eleven different players started at least one match over the Terps’ nonconference slate. The entire roster has appeared in at least four matches and seven sets.
“We’ve got people that can play a lot of different ways,” Hughes said. “Everyone trusts each other, everyone knows they’ve got their strengths.”
That trust is rooted in the quality time Hughes’ squad has spent together outside the gym — from cliff diving in Croatia during the team’s European tour last summer to the weekly get-togethers at Chipotle on Tuesdays and Mission BBQ on Thursdays.
Assistant coach Becca Acevedo said the coaching staff doesn’t have to force any team bonding activities — the Terps do it on their own, which makes them a “really special group.”
Maryland’s newcomers have quickly nestled within the team’s group of returning players. Schnitta, one of Maryland’s six new faces this season, said she didn’t know anybody on the team when she arrived in College Park in the spring. But her new teammates immediately welcomed her — inviting her to dinner, asking about her day and offering to help with whatever she needed.
“They, like, adopted me,” Schnitta said. “Our chemistry is beyond anything I’ve ever [experienced].”
Meanwhile, freshman Sydney Bryant frequents “Chipotle Tuesdays” alongside Maryland’s veterans. Fellow freshman Eva Rohrbach also takes a class with upperclassmen Erin Engel and Erin Morrissey.
“As far as I’ve seen, it’s a super tight-knit group. We love each other on-and-off the court,” Rohrbach said. “We’re always hanging out together. It’s really good when that can translate onto the volleyball court.”
The road gets substantially tougher now for Maryland. The team stares down a 20-game gauntlet against elite conference competition beginning Friday in College Park against No. 16 Purdue. But with its bevy of experienced players and a wealth of collective trust, the Terps appear well-equipped to challenge the Big Ten behemoths that stand before them.