Aird Attracts Elite Prospects To Campus

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The campus of the University of Maryland is usually quiet during the summer as most of the students are back home enjoying vacation. But on the afternoon of July 10 at the Xfinity Center, this was not the case, as all you could hear were volleyballs whizzing through the air and hitting the Pavilion court.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The campus of the University of Maryland is usually quiet during the summer as most of the students are back home enjoying vacation. But on the afternoon of July 10 at the Xfinity Center, this was not the case, as all you could hear were volleyballs whizzing through the air and hitting the Pavilion court. This was the scene that TT walked into when visiting College Park for Maryland volleyball’s second-annual elite camp under dynamo Coach Steve Aird.

This camp was for high school girls who play volleyball, but especially for the girls who had already committed to the Terps in the next few high school classes. As soon as camp began, girls in the 11th and 12th grades were split up from the rest, and from there the Terps commits gathered, too. Eventually non-commit campers of equal height and skill were mixed with the Terps commits as Aird announced the first drill, which was simply a passing drill between partners. It was during this drill when we caught up star Terps middle blocker Hailey Murray, who was helping at the camp.

But first, it was quite the crew of elites that congregated at the Pavilion on this day, led by some of the future class luminaries. There was Rainelle Jones, a 6-foot-2 Oxon Hill High School standout in the 2018 class who is the daughter of former Terps basketball player Tom 'Speedy Jones, while also in attendance was verbal commitment Jada Gardner, a 6-foot-1 class of 2017 standout from Texas, who happens to be the niece of former Duke basketball player Shane Battier. (See complete list of commits below).

Back to the current team, this summer Murray was selected to the Big Ten European Volleyball Tour Team, which consisted of one player per team from each Big Ten school. The girls traveled around Europe playing against national teams of different countries. When asked about her experience, Murray remarked, “It was probably the best experience I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve never been around such great athletes and human beings and I’m just so lucky I got to go."

Interestingly, mental skills were a huge part of what Murray learned thorough playing with other players in her conference, other than just her Terrapin teammates.

“I learned a lot about maturity and composure. A lot of them [things she learned] are just fixated on the experience,” Murray said. Other than playing with new teammates, Murray had a new coach to learn from as well with Northwestern Coach Keylor Chan coaching the touring team.

“He taught us a lot about being mature. He’s one of those coaches that believes he knows that you know I’ve [he’s’] done my [his] job when you guys don’t need me [him]” Murray said about Chan’s coaching style.

And, of course, while in Europe playing elite talent can always be a challenge, so when asked what she learned from playing with such competition, Murray said: “Every ball matters. But after the play is done the previous play doesn’t matter and you have to start fresh… and its not the end of the world if you miss one ball.”

All in all, Murray said the trip was fantastic, and added her favorite place the team visited was Marmore, Slovenia. She looked and sounded poised and ready to bring her leadership to her Terps after her time spent in Europe.

TT also got a chance to ask Murray about the new recruits that Aird has been bringing in, and what it means to the program at Maryland. The Terps, in year one under Aird, got off to a 6-0 start last fall, only to finish 10-21 while enduring the rigors of the Big Ten, though there were some memorable wins sprinkled in. His off-season success in recruiting is beginning to get noticed.

“Steve is amazing at recruiting and our staff is amazing at recruiting. I think the attraction to the school comes with their energy,” Murray said. Maryland has eight new signees/commits lined up so far, for the next three years to come, with four girls committed for the class of 2016, three for the class of 2017, and one for the class of 2018. “I’m exited for them to get here. They’re all great kids and great athletes as well,” Murray said. Many can attest to the popularity of the sport rising last season under Aird, as the Pavilion was packed with boisterous fans during the Terps' televised match versus Rutgers. Then, Maryland topped that with its all-time home attendance mark, 4,522 for the Oct. 23 showdown with Penn State. On the season, average attendance jumped from 336 fans a game in 2013, to 1,539 per game in Aird's first season. After the interview with Murray, the attention turned back to camp and a set and spike drill, with current Maryland players and staff giving pointers and tossing balls to the girls as they practiced their skills hoping to gain notice from the Maryland staff.

Later, Aird gave us some time as well, talking of the recruiting process in general in his first two years at College Park. He cannot comment on specific recruits.

“I think we are at the point now where we are recruiting the type of kid that can have success in the Big Ten… the amount of talent, effort, preparation and kind of lifestyle you have to have to have success in this conference takes a special kind of kid," Aird said. "With the recruits were bringing in I think they have that in hand.”

Aird said many of the recruits they target “already have a lot of success nationally at the prep and AAU level, so they are all-Americans and Junior Olympics and going to championships. One of the keys to having success in college is playing in meaningful matches during your high school days.”

The program is recruiting well locally, too, and has its own 'DMV-to-UMD' movement like Terps football of late.

“Yeah we shoplifted it for a bit," Aird said. "I think a lot of college coaches will say win your city, win your state. For many years the best player in the DMV has gone away and played elsewhere, but I want to keep the best player in the state coming to Maryland every year. I want to keep the best players in the state coming to Maryland every year.”

But Maryland volleyball has more than just the DMV talent coming to play for its program, as it has recruits from all over the country committed to play from Texas to Ohio and beyond. There are four traditional Big Ten states already represented among the Terps' pledges, as Maryland embarks on Year Two in the league.

“I think they were excited about the vision of this place, the future of what we have going on, and the opportunity to build a program and do it the right way. These kids came here because they want to make history” Aird added.

As far as the upcoming season, and beyond, Aird said:

“What I am not worried about is competitive success. I am worried about the process. I want to build it slow and I want to do it so one year we're decent and the next year were not, I want to build a program,” Aird said. "It is going to take time, but by the time we get to 2017/2018 were going to be a really really good program and that’s what’s exciting everyone around here right now.”

The following are the known Terps volleyball signees/commitments to date, and a few tidbits on some: 2016 --

Gia Milana (OH, 6-1, Washington Township, Mich., Romeo HS) All-USA HS Third Team-USA Today, recorded 29 kills in the Class A title game, USA Volleyball Girls’ Youth National Team alternate

Katie Myers (MB, 6-1, Westerville, Ohio, Westerville Central HS)

Taylor Smith (OPP/S, 5-11, Auburn, Ind., Garrett HS) Nell Drummey (DS/L, 5-4, Kensington, Md., Academy of the Holy Cross)

2017

Samantha Drechsel (OH, 6-3, Bothell, Wash., Cedar Park Christian HS)

Erika Pritchard (OH, 6-1, Middletown, Md., Middletown HS)

Alexis Alden (OH, 6-1, Waukesha, Wis., Catholic Memorial HS) Led Catholic to the state title in 2014 with 16 kills; named third team all-area

Jada Gardner (OH, 6-1, Cibolo, Texas, Steele HS) Niece of former Duke men's basketball player Shane Battier

2018

Rainelle Jones (MB, 6-2, Oxon Hill HS) Daughter of former Terps men's basketball player Tom “Speedy” Jones

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