Just over seven months removed from its last game, No. 4 Maryland women’s basketball will take the Xfinity Center hardwood Friday night for an exhibition tilt against the Division II Fairmont State Fighting Falcons.
“To put on your uniform, that anxiousness, that nervousness, you kind of get that pregame routine established before your first game,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “...I think it’s always really helpful for your incoming freshmen. They need to play in front of fans, they need to have, kind of, those jitters and see and feel what it looks like.”
It will be the first time in exactly 612 days that the Terps will play in front of their home fans, a sight that is welcomed back with open arms. The coronavirus pandemic made the 2020-21 season difficult in a plethora of ways, but having empty crowds was a glaring one.
Frese’s team comes into the 2021-22 season with major expectations, not only ranking in the top-four nationally but being tabbed to win the Big Ten by both the conference’s coaches and media. The Terps bring back all five starters and their top-seven scorers from a team that averaged 90.1 points per game. That mark was not only the top in women’s college basketball last season, but it is the game’s most-prolific offense since Oregon averaged 92.4 points per contest in the 2017-18 season.
The preseason accolades have been flowing for Maryland throughout this week. Junior guards Ashley Owusu and Diamond Miller, graduate student guard Katie Benzan and graduate student forward/guard Chloe Bibby have all been named to the national preseason watch lists for the best players at their respective positions.
The Terps are absolutely loaded, and every player in their starting lineup will have national expectations to play up to. It is an exciting time for Maryland women’s basketball, and fans and pundits will get a chance to see this team in action for the first time Friday night.
Fairmont State Fighting Falcons
2020-21 record: 7-10 (7-9 Mountain East)
Head coach Stephanie Anderson is about to commence her third season at the helm of the Fairmont State women’s basketball program. Fairmont State is located in Fairmont, West Virginia, just over 220 miles away from the University of Maryland. Anderson was named head coach on May 3, 2019, following a five-year stint as lead assistant head coach at the school.
“I believe the game tomorrow is through a connection with [assistant] coach [Kaitlynn] Fratz in Pennsylvania,” Frese said.
Players to know
Sierra Kotchman, redshirt senior guard, 5-foot-6, No. 14 — Entering her fifth season, Kotchman is coming off three consecutive All-MEC First Team honors. The Washington, Pennsylvania, native was special in 2020-21, averaging 23.5 points per game, which was just 0.1 off the conference lead. Kotchman sunk 38.5% of her threes and 86.5% of her free throws last season; the latter led the conference.
Alyssa DeAngelo, sophomore guard/forward, 5-foot, No. 4 — Last season’s MEC Freshman of the Year returns to Fairmont following a sensational first year. In 17 games played, starting six of them, DeAngelo was the Fighting Falcons’ second-leading scorer at 13.6 points per game. She led all freshmen in the conference in scoring and steals, with 1.75 per game.
Katy Darnell, junior guard, 5-foot-6, No. 1 — Right behind DeAngelo in scoring last season was Darnell, who put up 10.1 points per night. What was more impressive about Darnell’s sophomore campaign though was her rebounding prowess. Her 7.1 rebounds per game paced the Fighting Falcons, which is notable considering her height.
Scoring offense. Despite finishing under .500 in their conference-only slate, the Fighting Falcons’ ability to score was not the issue. Fairmont State averaged 80.1 points per game, which was 11th in Division II. It will not be able to register those numbers against the Terps, but its offense seems to be a strong point. Fairmont State returns its top eight scorers.
Rebounding. The Fighting Falcons were a poor rebounding team one year ago. Fairmont State ranked 11th in the conference in rebounding offense and last in rebounding defense and rebounding margin. The Fighting Falcons had a -10.1 rebounding margin. For reference, the Terps had a +7.6 rebounding margin, tied for 21st-best in Division I.
Three things to watch
1. It will be exciting to see the Terps playing again. The last time the public saw Maryland was its heartbreaking 64-61 upset loss to Texas in the Sweet 16 of March’s NCAA Tournament. Maryland knew it should have made a deeper run in the postseason considering the circumstances, which plays into its team motto of “completing the mission” in 2022. While Friday is not the official start to the season, it should be a celebration of the start of what has the makings of a great team.
“I’m so excited, like I can’t even put it into words,” Benzan said. “I’ve heard the rumor and the reputation of the fans, I’m just so excited to be able to experience it. Especially as my last year, it’s gonna be incredible. So I just can't wait to play in front of that atmosphere.”
2. Exhibition results should be taken with a grain of salt. While the Terps will probably run the Fighting Falcons out of the gym, everything may not be perfect. It is the team’s first game against another squad since March, and there could be a factor of rust as kinks get worked out. Oftentimes coaches use exhibitions to help them get a feel for their rotation, and even though Maryland has an established team, four quarters of real college basketball cannot hurt.
“I think for your young kids in both classes, it’s really like their first exhibition game ever,” Frese said. “They’re kind of like freshmen, even though they’re sophomores. So just having those elements in play will be big for us.”
3. How will Shyanne Sellers look in a Maryland uniform for the first time? ESPN’s No. 22 recruit in the Class of 2021 will be donning the number zero in her Terps’ debut Friday. The daughter of former Chicago Bull Brad Sellers had a star-studded high school career, averaging 21.9 points, 10.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game at Aurora High School in Chicago. There is a real buzz around Sellers and what she can provide to the team as just a freshman.
“I think I have to go out there and do what I do,” Sellers said. “I think one thing I have to do is be more vocal, you know it’s gonna be loud...Just come out there and stay under control.”