With the Maryland volleyball team set to begin the 2013 season on Friday against George Washington at the GW/Nike Invitational, expectations are high for a team that returns 12 letterwinners and won seven of its final 10 matches last season.
After battling numerous injuries to begin the year, the Terps closed as one of the hottest teams in the conference taking matches against league heavyweights Duke and Georgia Tech.
Maryland head coach Tim Horsmon is excited about the direction of the program and the camaraderie his student-athletes have with one other.
“This is the one of best group of student-athletes in my time at Maryland,” said Horsmon. “We have great leaders who have tremendous energy and are committed to do all the little things right.”
The Terps started preseason camp on Aug. 9 and Horsmon has been very pleased with the progress and development of his squad.
‘This is the best preseason in terms of what we have worked on, and we’ve had a great atmosphere in the gym,” said Horsmon.
Keying those expectations are a pair of preseason All-ACC selections in juniors Ashleigh Crutcher and Adreené Elliott, and returning senior outside hitter Mary Cushman. Crutcher, who led the team with 443 kills a year ago, earned AVCA Honorable Mention All-America honors in 2012 becoming the first Terp to accomplish the feat since 2007. Crutcher became one of the top outside hitters in the ACC averaging 3.79 kills per set, which ranked third in the conference.
Cushman will pair with Crutcher to form solid 1-2 punch on the outside. The senior missed the middle portion of last season with an injury, but returned in ACC play and averaged 3.04 kills per set, an average that would have been the seventh-best in the conference.
"We are pretty excited about Mary coming back as a senior and Ashleigh having the year that she had last season,” said Horsmon. “We have a great foundation. I feel you win championships with outside hitters and those players are going to solidify that position."
Elliott spent the summer training with the U.S. Volleyball Senior A2 Team in Dallas after a strong 2012 season. Elliott led the team in hitting percentage (.363) and blocks (119) to go with 312 kills, the second-best total on the team. Elliott enters season with a career hitting percentage of .310, which ranks fifth all-time.
"Adreené is a special player,” said Horsmon. “We are going to look at her some as a middle and as a pin player. We are going to try to get her the ball as much as possible.”
Sophomore Emily Fraik and freshman Al Brown will be in the mix on the outside, and senior Carlisle Abele will factor in on the right side. Fraik spent the summer training with the U.S. High Performance Women’s Junior A1 Team as part of the European Global Challenge in Crotia. She tallied 100 kills in her freshman season and will also be looking upon as a right-side hitter. Meanwhile, Brown has the size and athleticism to excel on the outside.
In the middle of the court, coach Horsmon and the coaching staff are looking at four different players. Junior Catie Coyle provides the team length and experience and will compete with sophomore Kesley Hrebenach, and freshmen Ashlyn MacGregor and Chavi St. Hill.
Hrebenach came on at the end of last season totaling 43 kills in 42 sets played including a career-best 10 kills in a four-set win over Virginia Tech (11/10). MacGregor has impressed the coaching staff with her motor and may see time on the right side, while St. Hill is currently recovering from an injury and will push for playing time when she returns.
The departure of Remy McBain creates a void at setter with redshirt sophomore Kaitlyn King, and freshmen Julia Anderson and Whitney Craigo vying for the spot. After setting in high school and for her club, King was moved as a defensive specialist last season, but is eager to begin setting once again.
Along the back line, senior Sarah Harper and sophomore Amy Dion are competing for the starting libero position. Harper ranks eighth on Maryland’s career dig list with 1,195 and will provide strong leadership at the position. Dion had strong finish to the 2012 season and provided a spark to the squad down the stretch.
Sophomores Dani Bozzini and Nicola Ribisi have been recovering from injuries suffered during the offseason and will also factor in the rotation along with freshman Jessica Ward, a player that the coaching staff feels has a tremendous upside.
Overall, Horsmon believes the team can compete with any team in the ACC, but maintains consistency must be the team’s trademark.
"This probably has been our strongest preseason,” Horsmon said. “I think the maturity and leadership has been better than in previous years. I think we are going to attack and defend at a high level. We will need to improve in our serve-receive and setting as we have changed systems in the last couple of weeks. As those areas improve, our team will improve rapidly.
"If the growth I have seen since spring continues, I think we can compete with anyone in the ACC. It is about consistency. Every week we need to go out with the same mindset. We can have a special year if those things fall into place."
The Terps open the 2013 season Friday against the host Colonials. The match is set for a 7 p.m. start at the Charles E. Smith Center on the campus of George Washington University.
George Washington is coming off 10-18 season and returns seven letterwinners. The Colonials hold a slight edge in the all-time series and are 26-25 against the Terps.
Maryland will continue the tournament on Saturday with a matchup against Ole Miss at noon and UMBC at 5 p.m.
“We are excited to see how our team reacts to their new and different roles and how are upperclassman perform with a lot more on their shoulders,” said Horsmon.
Maryland’s first home match is scheduled against UMKC on Friday, Sept. 6 at 7:30 p.m. at Comcast Pavilion.