College Park, Maryland—The defending Big Ten Conference champions feel that they have some unfinished business.
The 2015-2016 season ended unceremoniously for the Maryland Terrapins in the second round of the NCAA tournament with a 74-65 loss to Washington. But that loss has arguably motivated the women’s basketball program in College Park for the last seven months.
“Quite frankly, I still have that bad taste in my mouth,” senior Shatori Walker-Kimbrough said. “I’ll have that bad taste in my mouth until the first game of this season. That will always be with me because I don’t think it should have ended that way.”
“I didn’t want to send my seniors out that way. And that’s why I try to go so hard in practice and try to set the foundation,” she continued. ”Like coach says, it’s all about legacy, and I would never want to leave Maryland like that on my last year.”
“I’ll never forget that, but that’s what motivates me to this day.”
And a motivated Walker-Kimbrough is exactly what Maryland needs. For the past few years Maryland “goes as Shatori goes,” as head coach Brenda Frese said last season. Walker-Kimbrough shot 54.3 percent from the field last year.
More importantly, she lead the NCAA and set a Big Ten record for 3-point shooting percentage with 54.5 percent. And while her 19.5 ppg average is enough of an offensive threat, she also had 118 assists in the 2015-2016 season.
While Walker-Kimbrough will lead Maryland’s backcourt, her fellow senior Brionna Jones will lead the frontcourt.
Jones has an ability to wear opposing teams down with her presence in the paint, due in large part to her shooting ability. She led the nation in field goal percentage shooting an astounding 66.5 percent. She also is a force to be reckoned with on the glass, averaging 9.8 rebounds a game last year, and has more than doubled her rebounding average since her freshman year.
Both Jones and Walker-Kimbrough finished their season on the Wooden and Naismith watch lists, and from their statistical impact alone, it is evident how important they are to the Terp’s success . But their experience is just as, if not more vital.
“When you talk about two final fours, four conference championships, playing with USA Basketball, just a wealth of experience in terms of the ability to win and what it takes to compete at the highest level,” Frese said about her two seniors.
Maryland is currently ranked fifth in the country in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Combine two of the premier players in the country with a top recruiting class, (actually, make that the number one recruiting class in the country) and Frese is hoping she has found the recipe for success.
Maryland welcomes six new freshmen to the team, Kaila Charles, Destiny Slocum, Jenna Staiti, Sarah Myers, Blair Watson and Stephanie Jones.
All six were McDonald's All-American nominees, with Charles, Slocum and Watson being named All-Americans. Add in Baylor transfer Ieshia Small, and the Terps have seven new faces on their 14 woman roster.
“I think we’re gonna go as they go,” junior guard Kristen Confroy said about the new additions. “Obviously they make up about half of our team so we’re just trying to get them acclimated as quickly as we can, because there’s a lot of talent in that class and we’re really excited for how they’re going to help us out this year.”
For those on the outside looking in, that many new faces might spell trouble. But those within the family echo Confroy’s praise of the new talent. Frese’s expectations have not been tapered, as she’s called them “one of the most competitive groups” Maryland has ever seen.
“They’re picking things up at a rapid rate which is really important with everything we’re throwing at them,” Frese said.
One of those freshmen, Slocum, will be the new Maryland starting point guard due to the graduation of Chloe Pavlech. But when asked if she feels any less pressure having to lead a top team as a freshman, Slocum said it’s no more pressure than usual.
“I feel like there’s always pressure for point guards in general, no matter the age because you’re kind of the floor general.
“So if you’re talking pressure in that kind of a sense, then yeah of course. But I mean, no matter from a freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, I’m going to give my all. And the pressure kind of fades away with confidence and just having my team there for me.”
Despite Slocum’s age, her team is expecting “big things” from her this season as Frese said, and she will ultimately be integral in helping to lead a championship run.
“She’s probably the most complete player we’ve had at that position, when you just talk about first and foremost her leadership skills, her communication, her passing ability and then the ability to be able to score. But she brings so much to the table for us,” Frese said.
New talent will mix with the old guard this year at Maryland. As they try to avenge an early exit last year, their goals remain the same, even if their motivations are different this year—simply playing one game at a time, hopefully culminating in a national championship. And if the veterans remain consistent, and the freshmen are as promising as predicted, that goal isn’t too far out of reach.