MARYLAND VOLLEYBALL BY THE NUMBERS
- 4 top-25 upsets in program history, including #15 USC on 9/14/17
- 16th-ranked freshman class in 2016 and 1st-ever top-10 class in 2017
- Average volleyball attendance rose from 336 to 1,539 in 2014
- 6 of program’s top-10 attendance records since 2014
- 1,808 fans for Penn State match (11/16/16) sets XFINITY Pavilion attendance record
- 11-1 non-conference record in 2017
- 9/20/17: Big Ten opener at Ohio State
STEVE AIRD COACHING RESUME
- 2014-present: Maryland’s 4th head coach in program history
- 2012-2014: Assistant Coach, Penn State
- 2007-2010: Director of Operations, Penn State
- 2005-2007: Assistant Coach, University of Cincinnati
- 2002-2005: Assistant Coach, Auburn University
The build is never a straight line up. Always curve balls, setbacks, heartbreaks. It's what makes it all worth it.#TerpsRising
— Steve Aird (@CoachAird) September 16, 2017
Maryland head coach Steve Aird took over the Terrapins’ volleyball program in 2014 after winning two national championships as a Penn State assistant. Since then, the program has steadily built a resume that includes increasing attendance (and energy) at home matches, steady progress in both its non-conference and conference schedule and huge upsets over top 25 teams (most recently #15 USC). In 2016, Aird coached Gia Milana, the top-rated recruit in program history, to All-Big Ten Honorable Mention and Big Ten All-Freshman team honors as she racked up 446 kills, the most by a freshman in school history.
VolleyMob caught up with the Terps’ coach to learn more about what he, his staff and the Maryland administration have been doing to live up to their aspirational social media hashtag, #TerpsRising.
VM: What strategy did you employ in building the program at Maryland?
SA: When I first toured campus and met the administration, I could see they understood the work it would take to go from a struggling ACC team to a contender in the toughest conference in the country. The administration understood it wouldn’t happen overnight, that it had to be done slowly and methodically in the right way.
VM: What types of players were you (and are you) recruiting?
SA: We look for character people: honest, hard-working players who, frankly, have a chip on their shoulders, the type of kids legendary programs may not have thought good enough to play there. I knew we would attract players, but it always came down to attracting good human beings who believe in themselves and want to work hard. Kids also come here because they want to do something that’s never been done. Maryland had some success in the early 2000’s but has never made it past the second round. That’s a cool challenge.
VM: You’ve attracted top-tier recruits from as far away as Washington state (Samantha Drechsel) and Texas (Jada Gardner). How did that happen?
SA: It comes down to relationships and getting a feel to see if someone’s open to your product, your staff and your vision. I knew we had a great product—a chance to play in the Big Ten 10 at a great academic school. We also have so much going on around us: seven miles from the White House, plus Baltimore and Washington sports teams.
VM: Are there any kids who may not have come in as blue-chip recruits who have played a positive impact on your program?
SA: We’ve got two seniors who have unique stories. Hailey Murray is a senior middle blocker who committed before I arrived. She was young in the sport and her maturity over the last few years has made her one of the best middles in the conference in terms of how physical she is and what she can do. Samantha Higginbothem is another. She played club with Hailey and had been planning to attend a D-III school, but I noticed her playing as hard as any kid I’ve ever coached so I convinced her and her parents to come here and she’s played in just about every match. I told both these kids there would be struggles early and by the time they’re seniors it’s gonna be fun. And they’ve worked hard to make that a reality.
VM: Are you the type of coach with specific goals and milestones?
SA: No, I’m the opposite. I want to win today then tomorrow get up and get back at it. I’m not going to look at wins and losses as “hey, we’ve arrived” or “hey, we haven’t arrived.” If we have some kids with the light bulbs going on in practice, that’s my win. I don’t get caught up in having to win or make the tournament. I just want to get better every single day and if we’re good enough, we’re good enough. We could play a great match against Penn State and still get swept. I talked to the team after the USC win and said, “Hey, I appreciate everyone’s happy, but we have to go out and play Oklahoma tomorrow.” From what I remember you get to celebrate in December.
VM: Tell us more about the USC win.
SA: We played well against USC, but we didn’t play great. I thought we played about the same against Washington the next day and they manhandled us. And that’s OK. It was a great lesson for the young kids who maybe haven’t felt that way in their lives. Not a bad thing. A lot of young kids are going to go through tough things—in this conference, you can play great and lose. It’s a long, long season and Russ Rose, my mentor at Penn State, is about as steady as it gets. He never lets wins or losses get to him.
VM: What are your thoughts about the start of conference play?
SA: It’ll be interesting to see how they respond to the Big Ten. We play four matches in eight days on the road against Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Penn State and it’s right when high school seasons are usually done. I’m not sure you find a team in the country that goes 4-0 on that trip. I don’t want them to get so caught up in if you lose a match to a great team you don’t feel you’re very good.
VM: You mentioned Russ Rose earlier. What impact has he had on your development?
SA: Outside of my father, Russ is the most important man in my life, but Russ is his own man and unique and what I wasn’t going to do is try to be him or someone I’m not. For better or worse, I’m a unique guy.
VM: Tell us about your associate head coach and assistant coach.
SA: Adam Hughes has been with us from the beginning and does an unbelievable job. Kristin Carpenter set Penn State to a championship in 2010. I’ve known her since she was 14.
VM: What is unique about the environment at home matches?
SA: It’s like a giant dance club that happens to have a volleyball match going on at it. We have a live DJ and play music between points like they do in international matches. I wanted to be nontraditional in everything from uniforms to the feel of home matches. I often refer to this program as “The Uncola.” It’s a young, energetic crowd.
VM: What has surprised you least about the start of your 2017 season?
SA: The fact that these young kids can play. I knew that. You recruit so young and you have to believe in them. The families are great. They value it. They work hard. They care. I really think this is the beginning of a multi-year cycle. It’s not like these kids are going to get any worse. They’ll just get more experience.
(Music is always on point, even when empty) pic.twitter.com/zWWHJvk6Un
— Steve Aird (@CoachAird) September 14, 2017