Senior Ashlyn MacGregor currently leads the NCAA in blocks (as of Sept. 22),
stepping up as one of the nation’s best defenders at the net.
But it took a lot of practice and development to get the Tarpon Springs, Fla., native to this point.
The 6-foot-2 middle blocker did not begin her volleyball career
until she was in high school, and as she puts it,
“I was honestly terrible at volleyball.”
MacGregor hit the court for the first time as a freshman playing for the Tarpon Springs Spongers (Tarpon Springs is famous for its Sponge Docks). Recognizing her lack of experience, her high school coach helped her get involved with a local club team to help improve her skills.
She played with the same club up until her senior year, and at that time, joined another, better squad. MacGregor was playing volleyball year round, bouncing back and forth between club and school matches.
MacGregor blossomed during her senior season at Tarpon Springs. She wound up leading Pinellas County with 466 kills, became an all-state selection, and, for the first time in 20 years, helped Tarpon Springs advance to the final four of the state tournament.
Quite the turnaround for a relative new kid on the volleyball block. And it attracted college coaches. After many visits, nothing felt quite right to MacGregor – until she visited College Park. Just days after her campus visit, she committed to being a Terp.
Despite having just four years of volleyball experience, MacGregor quickly emerged as one of the top blockers in the ACC as a freshman, finishing the year ranked among the top-15 blockers in the nation.
MacGregor continued to put up notable numbers her sophomore and junior years. In 2015, she was selected to the All-Tournament team for the Kristen Dickmann invitational and the DC Classic.
The secret to her consistent productivity? Well, nothing out of the norm.
MacGregor’s game day prep is quite routine. “I don't have any serious rituals,” she said. “We just have our serve and pass in the morning, for evening games, lunch, a three-hour break where I usually nap, our pregame meal with film, and then warm-ups before taking the court.”
“She's got a tremendous work ethic. No nonsense, hard-working player. Never complains,” head coach Steve Aird said.
Aird did not recruit MacGregor, but has built a healthy bond with his player.
“Ash and I are very different people,” Aird said. “She's introverted and I'm extroverted, but we have developed a really cool relationship since I met her. I have a great deal of respect for her.”
And with that, Aird respectfully takes note of MacGregor’s weaker areas, including defense. MacGregor also recognizes her leadership role can be improved.
“Coach [Aird] always says I lead by example, and I need to be more vocal about it. I have it all in my head, but I have to allow myself to say things; holding people to higher standards, myself included,” MacGregor said.
Holding oneself accountable is a hard pill to swallow, even for non-athletes, but MacGregor displays a level of maturity with acknowledging her responsibilities as a leader.
And as a leader, MacGregor is modest. This season so far, she has been selected to the All-Tournament team three - at the Kansas Invitational, the Maryland Invite and the Georgetown Classic. MacGregor was also selected as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week following the first week of the season.
“It's just an honor, I guess,” MacGregor said blushing.
MacGregor has a couple more months as a student-athlete and thus far, she has left a lasting impression on her teammates.
“I always really looked up to her on and off the court. She has a constant drive and is always steady,” junior Hailey Murray said.
“She’s my favorite to block with,” sophomore Angel Gaskin said. “She's always the calming factor. Never gets too high or too low emotionally. She levels everyone out.”
The New Kid On The Block is a special presentation of umterps.com.
Glen Charlton is a graduate student in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland and is a contributing writer to umterps.com.
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