The 2017-18 Maryland women’s basketball team’s season ended earlier than its fans are used to seeing. Despite holding a top-20 ranking throughout the entire season, the Terrapins couldn’t reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, falling to NC State in the second round, 74-60.
It was somewhat of a transition season, as the team graduated stars Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough in 2017, then lost star point guard Destiny Slocum to transfer last offseason. As a result, the players who were left were forced to grow their games quickly.
“I think overall, everybody was able to gain a lot of experience and become leaders,” junior forward Stephanie Jones said. “I believe last year was a great year for everybody to step up, use their voice, and be their own leader.”
At media day last week, the microscope was taken off of last year’s disappointing finish, as everyone is now focused on the season that lies ahead.
“I thought last season gave us a tremendous amount of experience, which I thought was very invaluable to our young group as was being able to finish out strong,” head coach Brenda Frese said in her opening statement. “It has been a phenomenal summer for us. I think the thing that separates this team right now is their bond, and their chemistry which is stronger than any team I have seen in a long time.
“I know our fans are really going to enjoy this new group—they’re talented and they’re going to really have an impact immediately for us. The energy and the personality of this team is going to be a lot of fun to watch this season.”
With that being said, let’s take a look at what the 2018-19 Maryland women’s basketball team is comprised of.
Most of the corps returns.
Four members of last year’s team are now gone: Aja Ellison transferred to Texas A&M, Ieshia Small graduated and is playing in China, Eleanna Christinaki left after her junior year to play in Poland, and Kristen Confroy is in the Wake Forest School of Medicine pursuing a doctorate degree.
However, Maryland’s best player is back and better than ever. Kaila Charles broke out in a big way last season and became the star of the team. In just her sophomore season, Charles led the team in scoring, averaging 17.9 points per game, while earning First Team All-Big Ten honors while racking up a number of other accolades.
And she’s not alone. Joining her will be three of the four next highest scorers in Blair Watson (13.8), Stephanie Jones (10.8), and Brianna Fraser (10.2). Channise Lewis, who ranked second among freshman in assists, and Sarah Myers will also return.
Fraser is the lone senior on the team, and her role has been growing larger each season. In her final year with the Terrapins, she’ll be as important as ever.
“It came around really quick,” Fraser said. “I’m just happy to be able to have one more year with my teammates. You know, to play hard and just remember all of these great opportunities we get to have.”
Lewis was primarily a facilitator last year, but she feels she can be a different kind of player in her sophomore campaign.
“It’s probably going to be more passing, but I also have a chance to score a little bit more this year too,” she said. “I think I grew all around: confidence, being able to keep my composure on the court, defense, being faster and stronger. It’s going to help me in the long run.”
The newcomers will have important roles right away.
As has been the norm throughout Brenda Frese’s tenure, Maryland will welcome in yet another elite recruiting class. For the 12th time in the past 16 seasons, the Terrapins have signed a top-10 recruiting class.
Shakira Austin is rated as the fourth-best prospect in college basketball, and she has the opportunity to step in and contribute immediately. The 6’5 forward is the tallest player on the team, giving the Terps some much-needed size inside while also scoring in a variety of ways. Guard Taylor Mikesell and center Olivia Owens, the remaining players in the class, are five-star prospects in their own right, and can be contributors as the season gets underway.
The Terrapins also brought in junior college transfer Sara Vujacic, known for her three-point shooting abilities. Her brother, Sasha, built a lengthy NBA career off of his sharpshooting, and she has followed suit. The additions of Mikesell and Vujacic give Maryland the ability to stretch the court, something it was lacking last season.
“I think a big piece for us, as I look on the floor, is that we have more weapons and we have more scorers,” Frese said. “I look at the ability to shoot the three right now is very high for us—when you look at Taylor [Mikesell], you look at Sara Vujacic, they’re able to expand it.”
But as is often the case with young players, the defense can be a little suspect—that’s one of the main concerns with this group.
“When you look at some of those deficiencies right now on the floor defensively, we’ve spent more time there and it probably doesn’t look like it at this point,” Frese said, “so that’s going to be a work in progress for us throughout this season, but they will get there. They’re fast learners.”
As one of the upperclassmen on the squad, Charles knows she can play a huge part in the youngsters’ development. That’s especially true on the defensive end.
“I know we had certain practices where our defense hasn’t played well,” she said, “but I go to our underclassmen and say, ‘It’s okay. Next play, we’re going to be good, next time we’ll be good.’ That way we’re all uplifting each other, and not being negative. Just being positive and supportive. Just being a good role model, in terms of they see me do it, that way, I’m not just telling them to do it but doing it myself can really help.”
Brenda Frese is still at the helm.
The past few seasons have had disappointing conclusions, but Frese remains one of the best coaches in the sport. She is the eighth-winningest coach in Division I history, posting a remarkable .765 winning percentage between her time at Ball State, Minnesota, and Maryland.
Since arriving in College Park, she has established the Terrapins as one of the powerhouse programs in the sport. After her first year, Maryland has made 15 consecutive postseason appearances, including the incredible 2006 National Championship season.
As long as Frese is in charge, the Terps will be in the mix. And this team has the talent necessary to be extremely threatening all year long. The Terrapins hold top-20 rankings in the few polls that are out already, and the AP and Coaches polls will yield similar results.
But Maryland has its sights set higher than that, and time will tell whether a second title could be in the cards.