"If we work twice as hard, we're going to have twice as much fun." Maryland's 2007-08 Motto.
By Charlene Curtis for theACC.com
The Maryland Terrapins started last season as the defending national champions - a position that every program would like to experience but so few ever get the chance. They finished the season wondering what went wrong. A loss in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament and an even more disappointing loss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament sent the Terrapins on a mission - a mission that could very well conclude with another run at a national championship.
With seven of their top eight players returning and a recruiting class ranked No. 2 in the country, the Terrapins are excited and eager to get the season started. "We're ecstatic to be able to start another season," said Maryland head coach Brenda Frese.
"Going into this season, how can we not be ecstatic with the situation of having four returning starters, three Wade Watch selectees, and really coming off of the kind of summer that we (had)? Crystal Langhorne, Laura Harper, and Marissa Coleman (were) all on teams winning gold medals and (were) part of the USA Basketball experience. Kristi Toliver had a tremendous summer as well going on to the Point Guard College and really learning some valuable leadership (skills)."
Langhorne (6-2, Sr., C/F), Maryland's first two-time All-American, leads the parade of Terrapin stars. She set ACC and Maryland records last season by making 70.7 percent of her field goal attempts. A three-time All-ACC honoree, Langhorne is practically unstoppable on the low block. Opponents may choose to double-team her down low, but the other talented Terrapins will make them think twice.
Harper (6-4, Sr., F/C), the 2006 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player, and Coleman (6-1, Jr., G/F), the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2006 and the only player in Maryland school history to record a triple-double, are two of the reasons opponents will have difficulty doubling Langhorne. Both are strong, fast, athletic, and versatile - Harper in the post and Coleman on the perimeter.
Toliver (5-8, Jr., G) is another All-ACC honoree and, along with Langhorne and Coleman, is a national player of the year candidate. She spent her summer further developing her basketball and leadership skills at the Point Guard College. With the graduation of Maryland's second all-time scoring leader and WNBA draft pick Shay Doron, Toliver now has to truly lead the Terrapins from the point guard position. Her experience at the Point Guard College this summer should help Toliver keep last season in perspective and handle the pressures of striving for a second NCAA championship.
"We definitely ended last season on a bitter note," Toliver said. "Going into this year, we have to put that behind us, but keep it in the back of our heads to keep us extra motivated so we don't allow that to happen again."
Joining Langhorne, Harper, Coleman, and Toliver in the starting lineup will either be senior Ashley Newman (5-10, G) or highly touted freshman, Marah Strickland (6-0, G). "Marah (Strickland) came in fully prepared," said Frese. "She came in with a personal trainer. She is an explosive guard that can really hit the three and has a tremendous pull-up jumper."
Whether it is the freshman Strickland or the senior Newman who fills the spot vacated by the graduating Doron, Maryland's starting five will be tough to beat.
Beyond the starting five, the Terrapins will have quality depth. Seniors Newman (if she doesn't start), Jade Perry (6-1, F/C), and Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood (5-9, G) have all played important roles during their careers at Maryland. Newman is a 3-point specialist. Perry is a physical banger in the paint with a finesse shot. And Wiley-Gatewood, who is still recovering from offseason knee surgery, provides help at the point guard position.
What about that No. 2 rated freshman class?
Strickland is the one freshman who might find her way into the starting lineup. Frese is also excited about Drey Mingo (6-2, F). "She really gives us some versatility in the post," said Frese. "(Mingo is) a post player that can step out and feels very comfortable being able to shoot from the perimeter and from the 3-point line. The experience of playing against the three upperclassmen (Harper, Langhorne, and Perry) will prove to be so valuable for her this year. She will find her way onto the floor this year."
The other three members of the top-rated class are Kat Lyons (5-10, G), Anjale Barrett (5-9, G), and Kim Rodgers (5-9, G). Barrett and Rodgers are still recovering from offseason ACL surgery. Lyons gives the Terrapins another playmaking guard who can shoot the deep 3-point shot.
In order to get back to the Final Four, the Terps know that they have to improve in a few key areas. Frese is hoping that the Terps' veteran leadership will make better decisions with the ball, resulting in fewer turnovers. "We know we have to address the turnover situation early and often in our practice habits and drills," Frese said. "We're doing drills to hold ourselves accountable."
And although the Terrapins led the nation in rebound margin and assists per game and were second in the country in scoring last season, defending the dribble drive was an area that needed improvement. "Our defense has really got to improve if we want to stay in the Top 5," said Frese.
And Langhorne said it simply, "Playing harder helps versus defending the dribble drive."
Frese explained, "Our theme and our motto this year, for obvious reasons, is about having twice as much fun (Frese is pregnant with twins). We really feel like we're going to have twice as much fun because of the fact that we've worked twice as hard this offseason. The lesson that we learned last year is that nothing substitutes (for) hard work."
So, if the Maryland veterans will lead the way and the freshmen are willing to follow, expect double trouble from the Terrapins who will be focused all season on having fun on their way back to a Final Four. Or is it the Final 2 X 2?