Maryland women's basketball wrapped up their season on Saturday, as they were eliminated at the Sweet 16 plateau, marking the second consecutive year that they made it at least that far in the NCAA tournament. And it is hard not to assess their past two years together.
That is not to say that 2011-12 and 2012-13 were identical for the Terps, because they were far from it. This year saw injuries and illness that decimated the team down to just six players who both played in more than 13 games and averaged more than 11 minutes in those contests.
2012-13 was also different because it featured Tianna Hawkins as she had never been seen before. The senior averaged 18 points and 9.7 rebounds per game - both career bests, en route to a spot on the All-ACC first team, where she joined Alyssa Thomas after Thomas was the lone Terp in 2011-12.
But both of the past two seasons ended similarly for Maryland: one with a 31-point loss in the Elite Eight and the more recent one with a 26-point let down in the Sweet 16. Both eliminations came at the hands of programs that have dominated the sport in recent years.
The margins of defeat may be concerning for a team that has bigger goals of bringing a third trophy (men's and women's combined) back to the lobby of Comcast Center. However, two straight trips to the Sweet 16 and three straight trips to the second round is solid and shows that the Terps have distanced themselves from their one-year hiatus from the dance in 2009-10. Clearly Thomas' arrival in 2010-11 has bridged the gap between the current team and the previous ones that made six straight tournaments dating back to Shay Doron's freshman year.
Now that they've gotten back to what could almost be considered the status quo by Brenda Frese standards (four Elite Eights and five Sweet 16s in 11 seasons at UMD), their goal will be making the adjustments that will enable them to beat even the most dominant teams in the nation in 2013-14.
And roster-wise, as you could have said at the end of 2011-12, things are looking up.
Maryland's backcourt is going to be littered with talent and may become one of the team's biggest strengths. They will have so many options at both the 1 and 2, in stark contrast to this year where they were basically stuck with Chloe Pavlech and Katie Rutan as their only options to start in those spots by the end of the season - not that both of them didn't step up big time.
When they add Brene Moseley back into the mix, they will have two former All-ACC freshmen point guards on their roster (Moseley and Pavlech). On top of that, Maryland's top 2013-14 recruit is in fact a point guard as well: 5-9 Lexie Brown from Suwanee, Ga. Brown is the No. 15 overall recruit in the nation.
And, almost without question, the addition to their backcourt and their team in general that the Terps can most look forward to next year is Laurin Mincy, who like Moseley will return from a season-ending ACL tear suffered this season.
Mincy was easily the Robin to Alyssa Thomas' Batman in 2011-12, though you could argue that Hawkins and Lynetta Kizer were up there statistically as well. And of course Hawkins went on to be more than just a sidekick just recently. However, it was Mincy who truly led the Terps in some key moments during her sophomore campaign, perhaps most notably in her 24-point performance that saved Maryland in the second round of the NCAA tournament against Louisville.
Mincy, a 2011-12 All-ACC honorable mention and a 2012-13 preseason All-ACC selection, can knock down shots from 3-point range as well as drive and finish at the basket. She is just a complete, all-around shooting guard, who also has good height for the position at 6-0. She averaged 13.1 points per game in her last full season and definitely has the potential to increase that average and be a vital weapon for Maryland in 2013-14.
In addition to Brown, Moseley and Mincy, Maryland will add incoming freshmen Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (5-11 wing), Brionna Jones (6-3 post player) and A'lexus Harrison (6-0 forward) as part of the nation's seventh-ranked recruiting class.
Brenda Frese's crew can be hopeful that all these additions will rectify their depth issues and add to their overall talent.
However, they will lose Hawkins, the player who was more or less their most reliable scoring option this entire season (though Thomas had a late burst of offensive dominance). In Tianna, they also lose one of the greatest rebounders in the history of their program and a player whose work ethic and dedication to improving her game seemed to inspire her teammates throughout this past season.
It will be interesting to see if Maryland can keep up their reputation as one of the best rebounding teams in the country without the player who once hauled in 24 boards in a single game. Alicia DeVaughn, who also deserves credit for contributing to that reputation, certainly seems up to filling the void after averaging 12.7 rebounds in the tournament. Expect Malina Howard to take on a bigger role next year as well, both scoring and rebounding wise.
All in all, while Tianna's departure cannot be overlooked, don't be surprised if Maryland still gets the job done in the paint and on the glass next year. Meanwhile, if their future backcourt ends up coming together and living up to how good and deep they look on paper, they may have a special run together.
Maryland's theme entering 2010-11, Thomas' freshman year, was "Reloaded." They haven't missed the tournament since and because of all the players they will return, as well as the players they will bring in, they have a great shot at improving upon what they have already accomplished in Alyssa's first three seasons. They have an opportunity to prove that the "reloading" concept isn't just talk and that they can truly become one of the most feared teams in women's college basketball year in and year out.