Before the season, any way you looked at it, you knew it was going to be an "interesting" season for the University of Maryland's women's basketball team.
Having lost players to graduation and transfer the last few years, this was going to be Brenda Frese's youngest team to date; a squad with no seniors, and six freshmen. The freshmen class was highly touted though, and Maryland was pre-season #4 in the ACC.
The pre-season opened with "Maryland Madness" on October 15th, but the real madness began a few days later when Coach Frese announced to everyone that her 2-year old son Tyler was diagnosed with leukemia. In a testament of will, courage, determination and dedication, Coach Frese has helped her son fight his and the family's battles, and still kept her program not only growing, but improving and achieving throughout the season. They reached a high of #10 in the national polls, and finished the regular season as the #4 seed in the conference, and after the ACC tournament, a #4 seed in the NCAA tourney. They enter the 2nd round of the tournament tonight with a 24-7 record, and aim to avenge one of those losses, vs. Georgetown.
A success is the only way you could describe Coach Frese's time at Maryland. Since her first season, when the team won just 10 games, Frese has guided Maryland to a National Championship in 2006, eight winning seasons, seven-straight 20-win seasons, three 30-win campaigns and seven-consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament. She has inspired on and off the court her players, and no greater proof of that can be found than the Team Tyler Foundation set up for leukemia research by former players Crystal Langhorne, Laura Harper, Marissa Coleman, and Shay Doron. Coach Frese talked to me about how lucky she feels, being part of the "Maryland family" and achieving such success.
Even knowing she had such a young team, Maryland continued their tradition of playing difficult out of conference games. This season, Maryland hosted St. John's and went on the road to play at Purdue and at tonight's opponent in the tournament, Georgetown. All this prior to taking on the ACC schedule featuring tournament teams Duke, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Miami, and Florida State. Coach Frese feels that it's important to use those out of conference games to get ready for the ACC schedule.
The 2010-11 Terps came in with one of the top ranked freshmen classes in the country. They did not disappoint! 6'2 forward Alyssa Thomas was the big gun, leading the team in scoring at 14.2 ppg, while also averaging 7.1 rpg. Alicia DeVaughn, Laurin Mincy, and Natasha Cloud were all big contributors, averaging over 12 minutes per game each, and contributed in a myriad of ways, including DeVaughn tying for the team lead in blocks. In the end Thomas was 2nd team All-Conference, and was also named ACC rookie of the year. Thomas was the first freshman to be All-Conference since Marissa Coleman of Maryland. It is very easy to get Coach Frese to talk about her freshmen class!
It was an interesting year in the ACC, in that it wasn't just Maryland that was loaded with talented, but very young players. Almost every team had at least one if not more freshman playing crucial roles on their teams. Duke featured several important freshmen, including Chelsea Gray and Haley Peters, Georgia Tech had guard Tyaunna Marshall, Virginia featured guard Ataira Franklin, and Florida State relied on forward Natasha Howard. It made for an "up and down" season in the conference, with teams such as Maryland both winning and losing games that surprised people. The good news is that these talented youngsters will be flourishing in the ACC for three more years.
When a team recruits a high school student-athlete, so much goes into the decision making process on both sides, that sometimes it can't properly be decided in the right time frame. It's situations like this that happen more and more it seems, and the result is the departure of players from schools via transfer frequently. It has happened to all schools, and it can be a problem for a program if it happens a few times at once. It can create an image of a program that is in trouble, or a coach that is difficult or kids don't want to play for. It is important for the program to be successful, that the Coach and players realize that it just happens sometimes, and put it behind them and go forward. Credit really goes to Coach Frese and her staff, after the departure of several "name players" to bring in this stellar class and return to the upper levels of conference and national play. Coach Frese talked to me about the difficulties in sometimes finding the right match between player and program.
When Maryland plays Georgetown tonight, a key for Georgetown will be to try to stop Junior post 6'4 Lynetta Kizer, a force inside. An All-ACC 2nd team selection, Kizer averages 13.3 ppg, and has improved her scoring every year at Maryland. She also had a team leading 7.7 rebounds per game, and with her strength went to the foul line an average of just over 5 times per game. When she is successful, the team is too. She led the team in scoring and rebounding multiple times, and put several double-doubles on the stat sheet. Kizer struggled offensively when Georgetown defeated the Terps earlier this year, hitting only 3-9 shots to score 10 points. She will have to do more than that tonight.
Win or lose tonight, it's certainly been a season that most associated with the Maryland program will not forget. The successes on the court, the trials and tribulations off the court, the program really has overcome an incredible amount of adversity. They will continue to move forward, regardless of the outcome, and we will continue to see an improved and growing Maryland women's basketball program in years to come.
The entire interview with Brenda Frese can be heard here.