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On one hand, Adam Hughes was named the head coach of a Big Ten team when Steve Aird surprisingly left for Indiana.
But on the other, the Maryland squad he inherited saw four players transfer and everyone of them would go on to play in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
And yet there the Terps were at last season’s end, one of the four teams left out of the NCAA bracket, after finishing 18-14 overall, 9-11 in the Big Ten. The nine victories in the league were the most in program history. Not bad for a team picked to finish 13th out of 14 in the B1G.
“As we went through the transition, the players really came together,” said Hughes, who was Aird’s assistant the previous four years. “And because of that we had a lot of relationships that allowed us to go through some of the troubles.
“If you look at our season, at the beginning of the year we had a few missteps but I don’t think that rattled the group. I knew they were pretty tight and willing to get better and by the end of the year we were playing extremely good volleyball.”
Maryland was also 18-14 in 2017, but 7-13 in the conference. In 2018, the Terps finished October with a sweep of Iowa and then then in November went 4-4, including a sweep of then No. 15 Michigan. Maryland ended up eighth in the B!G standings.
With the defections came inquiries and Hughes said he and his staff gave the returning players strong input.
“We wanted our players to have a big say if they were the right fit and if they would fit into our culture,” Hughes said. “We had a number of people who came in and they might have helped us on the floor, but we didn’t think it was right based on some of the feedback we got from some of our players. I think that helped.”
The key returning player was Erika Pritchard, a product of Middletown, Md., who is primed to have a big junior season. In 2018 she had 455 kills, more than double her closest teammate.
“She’s special and just scratching the surface,” Hughes said. “She’s got many, many years to come beyond college.”
Pritchard, a 6-foot-3 outside hitter, averaged 4.29 kills per set, hit .212 (she got 1,236 swings), and added 18 assists, 20 aces, averaged 2.57 digs (second on the team only to freshman libero Allegra Rivas, and had 59 blocks, 10 solo.
One transfer who did make the cut was setter Nicole Alford, who came from Georgia Tech, ran a 5-1, and averaged 9.98 assists per set, 1.84 digs and had 47 blocks, six solo.
Liz Twilley, a 6-1 outside who was the only senior with significant playing time, was second on the team with 270 kills, 2.62 per set, and had 47 blocks, nine solo.
Katie Myers, a 6-2 middle who battled injuries her first season and redshirted, had 195 kills, averaging 1.84 per set, and was big time at the net with 116 blocks, 11 solo. Myers was selected to the 12-player U.S. Collegiate National Team that will play in Japan next month.
“We had a young group that got a lot of experience and by the end of the year believed they belonged at that level,” Hughes said.
Maryland is bringing in four players to a roster that this season will have six sophomores, five juniors, and two seniors, setters Taylor Smith and Samantha Snyder. Joining them will be outside Rebekah Rath from Altamonte Springs, Fla., and California middle Lexy Finnerty, who signed in the spring, and middle Cara Lewis, a product of nearby Bowie, Md., who signed in the fall. The Terps also have Miami (Fla.) transfer Maddie Naumann, a product of Austin, Texas.
By the way, the players who left and played in the NCAA Tournament were Samantha Drechsel (who is from nearby Woodinville) at Washington, Kesley Wicinski at Florida State, Gia Milano at Baylor, and Angel Gaskin at Hawai’i.
“I think it’s part of what’s happening in college sports and if you bring someone to your university it should be because you care about them,” said Hughes, whose resume included nine seasons on staff at Penn State and a season at UC Irvine before coming to Maryland. “If it turns out that they need a new fit, I can still root for them.”
Reunions can be tough, since Hawai’i was eliminated in the first round by Baylor.
“It was a match that I know a lot of our players were watching,” Hughes admitted.