By Callie Caplan
In Angel Gaskin's first college class, she sat in the back of a packed lecture hall. Midway through the lesson, Gaskin had to go to the bathroom, so she raised her hand to ask permission, just as was required in high school.
Her question was met with hundreds of students' muffled laughter at her rookie mistake.
"I was like, ‘Wow, I'm not a baby anymore,'" Gaskin said.
The Maryland volleyball outside hitter's introduction to life away from her Tampa, Fla., home came about eight months sooner than normal. Gaskin -- who skipped some of her senior year in high school -- enrolled at Maryland a semester early to get acclimated to college before making her Terps debut on the court this fall.
In the process, she and head coach Steve Aird have formed a unique bond in their quest to mold Maryland volleyball into a preeminent program.
"I kind of set the trend," Gaskin said of her arrival in January 2015, one some future commits intend to follow. "That just shows how important the program is moving forward, how seriously people are going to take it and how bad we want to make a name for ourselves."
Gaskin first considered forgoing the end of her senior year during a family conversation in October 2014. Afterward, she made a pros and cons list.
Her acceptance to Maryland was guaranteed, her senior grades were frozen, and she'd have access to better coaching, conditioning and treatment. Though she'd be away from her family and friends, it was a no-brainer.
"She could get up there to train ... and contribute more than if she showed up at the fall and had everything thrown at her at once," Erin Gaskin, Angel's mother, said.
Besides, Gaskin had already developed her relationship with Aird.
Gaskin attended a Penn State recruiting camp as a rising junior when Aird was a Nittany Lions assistant. But on the second day, Gaskin landed wrong on one attempt and fell to the floor with a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus.
Aird helped her during the initial moments, but the injury caused her to miss her entire junior season. Gaskin didn't return to full training until February -- seven months after the injury. As other college programs rescinded their interest in Gaskin, Aird stayed in touch throughout her recovery.
When he became Maryland's head coach later that year, one of his first moves was to make Gaskin, still in her rehabilitation phase, a Terp. On her official visit, Gaskin "fell in love" with the school and Aird's vision for the program.
"Angel is the kind of human being I wanted to be around," Aird said. "There's better players in the country, and she knows that, and she's got a long way to go. But when you talk about character and you talk about the kind of kid you want to overhaul a program ... all of those things kind of lined up."
So far, Gaskin's improved her accuracy, blocking and power under Aird's instruction. But while she was excelling in the gym, she had to shove her prom weekend into a 36-hour window. She walked at her school's graduation ceremony, but only after finishing her first finals week.
"I came here early only for volleyball, not really thinking about school-wise," Gaskin said. "I was just [like], ‘How can I get ahead in volleyball? How can I help the team? How can I be the best player I can be?'"
But the sacrifices were worth it for Gaskin, because she eyes lofty goals.
She wants to be the Big Ten conference's Freshman of the Year. She wants to earn a 4.0 GPA. She wants to make a Final Four appearance and win a national championship in her four years.
"I don't want to say, ‘Oh yeah, I was on the team, and we had pretty good seasons,'" Gaskin said. "I want to say, ‘I came in. I made a difference. I made an impact on the team.'"
And she's on her way -- a semester ahead of schedule.
"She wanted to be at the beginning of something that was going to be big and be at the ground level of building Steve's program," Erin Gaskin said. "It was a seamless transition."