College Park, MD -- It's a big year ahead for the University of Maryland women's basketball team. Already the team has been able to get 10 practices in over the summer due to their upcoming eight-day trip to Italy, where they will play two games and explore a new culture together.
The trip is much needed for the team, who recently brought seven new players into the program, including one transfer: Ieshia Small, Kaila Charles, Destiny Slocum, Sarah Myers, Jenna Staiti, Blair Watson and Stephanie Jones. These young ladies -- excluding Small who is a transfer -- make up this years' number one recruiting class in college basketball.
Already the freshman have their coaches' attention with how they work in practice.
This time next week, the Terrapins will be enjoying their trip across the ocean, hoping to bond the veterans with the new players, learn about a new culture, but most importantly, finding their chemistry on the court.
Now in her 15th season as head coach, Frese expressed her excitement for this years' exceptional recruiting class, as well as how her veteran players have managed to already begin to guide the new freshman on and off the court in the transition process over the summer.
"It has been phenomenal. It's led by our vets, but our freshman are really hungry, they're young, and they have really taken it all in. Our veterans have done a really good job being patient and really helping them both on and off the court," she said.
Blending a team of seven new players may be difficult, but the 10 extra summer practices that were allowed due to their trip overseas, have proved to be valuable in blending the team. This trip abroad also helps the team to find their rhythm before the fall comes.
Senior Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, is already feeling the effects of the summer practices on the team. "They have helped tremendously. These two-hour practices have helped us get our chemistry down and learn how each other plays. I feel like it is only going to help us in the long run," she said.
During practice, the Terrapins ran a handful of drills, practicing everything from defense to shooting -- and freshman guard Slocum's leadership is already standing out.
"She's special. No question about it. Everything she has done up until this point is win," said Frese. "She's played at the highest level. She's won a state championship, won a gold medal with USA, so she has a great presence, and you need that role when you talk about a freshman coming in and guiding your team."
Slocum's road to the University of Maryland was quite a whirlwind. After initially committing to the Washington in the fall of her junior year in high school, Slocum had second thoughts, realizing that something greater may be out there for her.
When asked about the decision, Slocum used a creative metaphor to explain. "I always like to think it's like breaking up with a boyfriend or a girlfriend that you know is bad for you. You don't want to, but then you move onto something better."
Some may say to never second-guess yourself, but by rethinking her decision, the five-star Idaho native who averaged 24.6 points per game in high school, eventually found herself at the Maryland -- a place she feels just at home.
"It's perfect here. I've always wanted to play with a bunch of girls who are good at basketball. That's why I am here," Slocum added.
Charles, another key member of the freshman recruiting class, expressed why she chose Maryland.
"I felt very comfortable with the coaching staff and the players, because they were all genuine. When I was narrowing down my schools, I just knew I'd fit more here than anywhere else."
During their practice on Wednesday, August 3, in addition to Charles and Slocum, their fellow classmates, Myers and Staiti, also shined. Staiti is a 6'6 center from Cumming, Georgia, who will definitely give the Terrapins strength inside the paint. Already her size is making an impact for Maryland as an option for playing inside out.
Like Staiti, Myers is also a Georgia native, just six inches shorter but still has great size as a guard. She averaged 20.5 points per game in high school and has a great outside range that will add depth to the roster. With these two players alone, it could be seen the Terps can go inside to Staiti or kick it out to Myers to drain the outside shot.
The incoming class has already managed to set many goals for themselves this upcoming season, including getting comfortable on offense, becoming more vocal on the court, and of course, taking home a championship. However, they are not the only ones.
With only two seniors on the team, Walker-Kimbrough and Brionna Jones, both players are working towards being go-to leaders on and off the court for the team, hoping their veteran leadership will make an impact on their teammates throughout the season.
Last season, Walker-Kimbrough was dominate for Maryland and for the senior, questions are already coming about her professional career.
When asked about being a potential top pick in the 2017 WNBA draft, Walker-Kimbrough stated that she is focusing on the now.
"Right now the better our team is, everything else will work itself out. Right now I am just focused on leading to get our team together and making us the best Maryland team we can be going into the season and in March," said Walker-Kimbrough.
Soon the Terrapins will find themselves in a whole new country. Walker-Kimbrough voiced how she is hoping the trip will be a way for the team to get to know each other better off the court.
"I think this is going to be a great team bonding trip. We are only going to have each other. We are going to be out of our comfort zones, trying new foods, being able to talk to people and just getting to know each other better not just on the court."
Her leadership is already starting to shine this summer, and her new teammates are eager to get to Italy as well. The team has been learning new phrases in Italian, like how to say what translates into "go turtles," as well as the basics such as, "hello" and "goodbye."
However, before they can hop on the plane to Rome, Florence, Milan and Lake Como, the Terrapins have a little more work to do off the court as well in preparation for their trip.
The team was divided into three groups based on the classes of each of the players (sophomores and seniors made up one team). They had to put together a presentation on one of the cities they are going to visit and compete against each other for the best presentation.
According to Charles, the freshman team put together a rap song to describe Rome, with each team member contributing information and lyrics for the presentation. The different teams won't find out who won the competition until the end of the week, but Charles confidently stated she thinks the freshman "will win."
The team is off to starting their season on the same page by creating a foundation of chemistry on their journey in Italy. They hope starting early will help them heading into the 2016-2017 season, and propel them into another great season full of accomplishments.
Last season the Terrapins earned an overall record of 31-4 and won the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles. Going into this season, Frese said "we always set the bar high here" before stating that she has big plans to work with her players to bring them together and meet new goals and standards in order to win.