COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Steve Aird knows that sweeping No. 18 USC is not the be-all, end-all for Maryland volleyball.
But it was a pretty sweet step for the young Terps to come away with a 25-22, 25-23, 25-21 victory Thursday night that left Maryland 10-0 early in Aird’s fourth season.
This was the first time Maryland beat a ranked non-conference opponent in Aird’s tenure, one in which he has slowly tried to construct a program that left the ACC and got thrown into the gauntlet that is Big Ten volleyball the season he arrived.
“For me it’s important because when I got here and agreed to play in this tournament, I really believed that if I had enough time to build it the right way and do things right that we’d have a team that could compete with these teams X number of years later,” Aird said.
“The thing about vision is you’ve got to believe it before you become it and it’s how I live and I saw us being able to be good in time. Some of the youngsters proved me right tonight.”
A year ago, at USC, Maryland got swept by the Trojans.
“Honestly, when we won my feeling wasn’t, ‘Oh, my God, we just won, this is crazy, I’m so happy,’ it was more like, wow, we have a game tomorrow morning,” said sophomore outside Gia Milana, who had 12 kills and 14 digs. “What am I going to do from now until then to prepare myself and be as successful as possible and be better than tonight? Because honestly, I think we could have played a lot better. They definitely didn’t see our best.
“We have something to be happy about, for sure, but I think we could work a lot more on being cleaner and a lot of other stuff.”
They get the chance at 11 a.m. Eastern when the Terps play Oklahoma (3-7), which lost in three to No. 7 Washington on Thursday. At 4 p.m. Oklahoma turns around and plays USC (7-3) and then at 7 p.m. the Terps take on Washington (9-1).
“The win is nice, but we’ve got to back it up with a win against Oklahoma,” Aird said.
If Maryland can continue to make big plays and block — the Terps had 10 Thursday, while USC had just four — the Washington match should be worth the price of admission.
“It’s a credit to a lot of years of hard work to put us in a position to have success, but at the same time you get to relax in December,” Aird said. “That’s the nature of this gig. I’m proud of my kids, but I’m already thinking about Oklahoma tomorrow.
Freshman Erika Pritchard had 12 kills, nine digs and two blocks against USC. Freshman opposite Samantha Dreschsel had six kills and two blocks, one solo, and junior opposite Angel Gaskin had six kills and four blocks, one solo. Senior middle Hailey Murray had three kills and four blocks and the other middle, freshman Katie Myers, had four kills and four blocks, one solo.
“That was really fun,” said Pritchard, who is from Middletown, Md, about an hour’s drive away from campus. “It was just a really cool experience to know what we can do and know how we can get better having that feeling of winning.”
USC hit .155, punctuated by sophomore All-American outside Khalia Lanier’s match. She had 10 kills but hit .026. What’s more, the Women of Troy had one ace — from Lanier — but seven errors. Brittany Abercrombie had 10 kills and hit .474 to go with four digs and two blocks.
“We were ready,” said Kelsey Wiciniski, the Maryland junior libero who is dealing with a left hamstring injury. That didn’t keep her from getting 16 digs, quite a few off the bombs from Lanier and USC’s other outside, junior Alyse Ford, who had just six kills.
Wicinski offered perspective on the victory. The year before she got here, Aird’s first, Maryland went 10-21, 3-17 in the Big Ten. In 2015, the Terps went 15-19, 5-15 in the B1G. And last year, they were 12-20, 4-16 in the league.
“Huge,” she said with a smile. “It’s huge for the program. It’s something we’ve been looking forward to for the past couple of years. When we came in as freshmen, Coach would talk to me about and tell us what was going to happen. And you know, the girls were like, ‘Yeah, sure Coach.’ But finally it did come true, so it’s actually really, really cool.”
Aird appreciated that.
We didn’t win a championship. It’s still young in the season. But I’ve been telling them the last six, eight weeks that I think they’re pretty good and I think we can be pretty good if we play the game the right way,” Aird said.
“There’s a steep learning curve with young people and the good news about some of the youngs kids that we have is they don’t know any better. They just go and play. There’s a long way to go and the Big Ten has teams that we’ll go on the road and they’ll slap us around and it makes you humble really quick.”