How do you top a 34-3 season where you ran the table your first winter competing in a new league?  How do you look at consecutive trips to the Final Four and know you are still 20+ points away from reaching the National Championship game?  And how do you survive your point guard leaving two years ahead of schedule?

Maryland returns the bulk of its nucleus from the team that lost 81-58 in the Final Four in Tampa to eventual National Champ UConn.  They will have a different coaching staff–as Tina Langley took over the program at Rice and Marlin Chinn got the nod at FIU.  They won’t have Lexie Brown running the offense…as the Big Ten Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player transferred to Duke in the offseason.  But coach Brenda Frese has dealt with transfers and revamped staffs in the past…only to find a way and succeed.  Does that make this season “title or bust”?  “I’ve never really put a mindset like that,” Frese says, “for us it’s just continuing to play at that highest level.  And I think when you those things, day in and day out, you’ll continue to be successful.”

While they won’t have Brown’s 13 points and 4.5 assists per game, the Terps will have a senior starting point guard for the first time since Anjale Barrett in 2011-12.  Actually, two of them.  Brene Moseley was named to the ACC’s All-Freshman team before tearing her ACL during preseason workouts the following fall;  since her redshirt season the Burtonsville, Maryland product has been a valuable performer off the bench.  Chloe Pavlech started 31 games as a freshman after Moseley’s injury;  injury issues wound up derailing her second season with the Terps as well.  Both are healthy and ready to direct the offense…and junior guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough says, “I’m excited and very confident.  I wouldn’t pick anyone else to play with or play for.  They know Coach B and they know the system.”  Sophomore Kristen Confroy saw the majority of her minutes last season at the off-guard position, but can play the point as well.

Walker-Kimbrough and junior center Brionna Jones are expected to provide the bulk of the scoring…and the two complement each other well.  Shatori is a slasher who is at her most dangerous in transition while Jones owns the half-court game…coming to Maryland with an embarrassing array of low-post moves.  Sophomore Kiara Leslie and senior Malina Howard will add frontcourt depth, while Walker-Kimbrough will look beyond her own scoring: “I want to make better plays for my teammates. Getting open shots for Kiara, giving Bree an opportunity to score.  Making them great as well.”

The rich get richer in College Park as Coach Brenda Frese brings in two freshman who will make a strong frontcourt even more formidable:  Kiah Gillespie averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds while starting the Terps’ two exhibitions and Brianna Frasier made an impact off the bench in the paint as well.  “Absolutely phenomenal”, senior guard Chloe Pavlech says, “Kiah’s unreal.  And Brianna’s coming right along with her.  As soon as we can throw the freshmen into the mix, we’re going to be a completely different team.”

That’s not even factoring the incoming 2016 recruiting class-ranked #1 by ESPN, Blue Star Basketball and Collegiate Girls Basketball Report.  The six-player class includes top-ten prospect Destiny Slocum.  It’s Frese’s 11th recruiting class in 14 years ranked in the top ten.  “I think first and foremost you have to find the right type of players– and we’ve been able to find players that kind of have the blue-collar mentality,” Frese explains, “that just want to come in and work extremely hard.  Whether that’s in the weight room…or on the court and getting shots up…finding the right type of player has been key.”

After going 18-0 in their first Big Ten season, conference play should be a little more competitive this winter;  Ohio State, Northwestern, Michigan State and Iowa join the Terps in the Preseason Top 25.  The Buckeyes are likely the Terps biggest conference test this seaons– Kelsey Mitchell’s back after scoring a nation-best 24.9 points per game as a freshman.  OSU comes to College Park January 2nd…and Maryland visits Columbus February 8th.  A December 28th showdown at Madison Square Garden against three-time defending champ and preseason #1 UConn is the non-conference highlight.

This is the tenth anniversary of Maryland’s National Championship season…and while every program dreams of cutting the nets down in April most coaches recognize they’re a long way from that final game, no matter how good their returnees and recruiting class might be.  The 2005-06 team faced plenty of questions, ranging from how would freshman Kristi Tolliver handle the point-guard position to could they ever get over the hump and beat Duke?  While the destination (this year it’s Indianapolis) is nice, the journey is a gift in and of itself.

After a 102-53 season-opening win over UMass-Lowell, the Terps host High Point Wednesday night.

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