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Maryland women’s basketball brings its most talented roster in years into 2019-20

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After several disappointing NCAA Tournament showings, the Terps have the weapons to make another deep run.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament - Maryland vs Michigan Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Maryland sports offseason is here, and it was a wild year for Terrapin athletics. There were national championships in men’s soccer and women’s lacrosse, and a trip to the title game in field hockey. Maryland athletes won some of the highest honors in their sports. But there were also some lows, both on and off the field.

This summer, we’ll be going in-depth on every Maryland varsity program, taking a glimpse at where it’s been and where it’s going. We’ve already looked at football, women’s soccer, men’s soccer, field hockey and volleyball. Now, it’s time for the women’s basketball program, which has dominated the Big Ten but struggled in recent NCAA Tournaments.

Maryland women’s basketball

Established: 1971
All-time record: 1001-427
Championships: 2006
Last 5 years: 152-23, 76-10 Big Ten
The coach: Brenda Frese (entering 18th season)
Winter 2019: 29-5, 15-3 Big Ten, NCAA Tournament Round of 32

Where it’s been

Maryland women’s basketball has had some ups and downs throughout its history, but the successes have far outweighed the downfalls. The program’s longest postseason drought has been just three seasons, while the Terrapins are in the midst of run of nine straight NCAA Tournaments and 16 straight postseason appearances.

That success began nearly immediately when Brenda Frese arrived on campus; in 17 seasons, she’s turned the program into a consistent powerhouse. In just her fourth season, the Terps brought home a national championship. The 2005-06 team went 34-4 that year with a 12-2 ACC mark, running the table in March to secure the program’s first title.

While Maryland hasn’t reached the promised land in the 13 seasons that have followed, the Terps are still up there as a perennial contender each and every year. They have since made two Final Fours and three Elite Eights, knocking on the door of another ring annually. However, in the past two seasons, they’ve suffered second-round knockouts, most recently to UCLA this past year.

Where it’s going

When Maryland saw its season end at home on March 25 against the Bruins, there was some cause for concern. It was the program’s third second-round exit in four years, most of which have been tournament upsets. However, the focus immediately switched to the future, which is incredibly bright for the Terrapins.

The only players gone from last season are Brianna Fraser (graduated) and Sarah Myers (transferred). The former was a top reserve who spent a good amount of time on the shelf with an ankle injury, and the latter was the ninth option on a 10-player team. Everyone else returns — Maryland brings back 90 percent of its scoring. Throw in another top recruiting class, and the Terps will be dangerous come November.

The next few years will be hindered by minor NCAA sanctions, most notably including the loss of a scholarship until 2021. Maryland also doesn’t have any commits in 2020 or beyond, although there’s still a lot of time to change that and reload for when the current seniors leave.

Names to know

Kaila Charles, the team’s MVP and one of the best players in the country, is back. She averaged 17 points per game as a junior and single-handedly stole a game from Minnesota with a clutch performance down the stretch. Seniors Stephanie Jones and Blair Watson, two veterans who stepped up time and time again when needed, are back as well.

And the young stars are returning in full force. Taylor Mikesell and Shakira Austin were both in consideration for Big Ten Freshman of the Year (with Mikesell winning the media award), and together, they were one of the best freshman duos the program has ever seen. With another year under their belts and a full offseason of training with the team’s staff, they hope to take the next step as sophomores.

The Terps also bring in the No. 3 recruiting class in the country, according to ESPNw, headlined by Ashley Owusu, the nation’s No. 2 point guard and a prime candidate to run the offense right away. The class also includes three top-50 wings — Diamond Miller, Zoe Young and Faith Masonius — who can be impact role players immediately. Check out all the information on the incoming freshmen here.

Rounding out the returning players are sophomore center Olivia Owens, senior sharpshooting wing Sara Vujacic and junior point guard Channise Lewis. Incoming transfer Mimi Collins, formerly at Tennessee, will add depth to the frontcourt, whether she’s eligible this season or next. After consecutive years of having a thin roster, Frese now has 12 talented options at her disposal.

The mission

This is the year. Maryland has failed to reach the Elite Eight four years in a row, and they’ve failed to make the second weekend of the tournament in back-to-back seasons. But with Charles, Watson and Jones overlapping with the last two recruiting classes, this is perhaps Maryland’s most talented team since those consecutive Final Four runs in 2014 and 2015.

The expectations are high — the Terrapins are a consensus top-five team in the nation according to early 2019-20 rankings. They return nearly all of their production from a year ago, and reinforcements are on the way in the form of another top-three recruiting class. And the national title race is as open as it’s been in women’s college basketball in years. If there was any time for Maryland to break its championship drought of 13 seasons, it’s now.