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Maryland women’s basketball can’t help thinking of what could have been

The Terps were able to take in the news ahead of time and as a team, but that didn’t stop the emotions.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament: Maryland vs Ohio State Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Just days after lifting the Big Ten tournament trophy and days before Selection Monday, the Maryland women’s basketball team was back together on the practice floor in College Park, gearing up for the NCAA Tournament.

As the Terps’ Thursday practice came to a close, head coach Brenda Frese saw Deputy Athletic Director Colleen Sorem make her way to the court. The two then went into the hallway to talk.

The conversation revolved around the coronavirus outbreak occurring in the United States. Sorem was able to give Frese a heads up that the Big Ten and NCAA — which had decided to originally play the tournament, but without fans due to COVID-19 — were set to cancel the postseasons for men’s and women’s basketball all together that afternoon.

Despite the tough news, Frese said she’s grateful that the team could meet in the locker room, find out together and allow a chance for closure, while other programs learned of the news separately or along with the rest of the sports world.

“Blair [Watson’s] first words after we were told was she told everybody she loved them,” Frese said. “And then Kaila [Charles] talking about her disappointment, but also just the memory of not wanting to be with any other team.”

Every coach, player and support staff member had a chance to speak, according to Frese, as thoughts from this season and beyond came in tones of both pride and sadness.

“They were extremely, extremely sad,” Frese said. “But I think everyone in that locker room understands the severity of what’s going on. I saw a lot of pieces where coaches had to send out text messages and I’m just really grateful that we got to have our hugs and say ‘I love you’ and say our goodbyes to our seniors and be able to kind of close it the way you would want to be able to close it.”

After losing in the Big Ten tournament final and not making it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament two seasons in a row, the Terps were certainly looking forward to re-solidifying their spot as one of the top programs in the nation.

Following a shaky start to the season, that included four losses by Jan. 9, Maryland went on to win 17 games in a row — capturing a share of the regular season title and winning the Big Ten tournament.

“Obviously, I think our heart goes out to the seniors,” Frese said. “I mean that’s the biggest thing is them not getting this opportunity back and just where they led us — the heights. This season, just kind of not knowing the ending for them I think is obviously pretty sad.”

Charles, Watson, Stephanie Jones and Sara Vujacic left their marks on the program as a group and individually, but not having a true ending will forever lead to feelings of ‘What if?’

The 2016 recruiting class — which was No. 1 in the nation, according to ESPN — consisted of six players, but just three stayed after the transfers of Destiny Slocum, Jenna Staiti and Sarah Myers away from the program.

Charles, Jones and Watson remained with the Terps and accumulated an astonishing 115-20 record with three Big Ten regular season and two Big Ten tournament titles, as well as a Sweet Sixteen appearance.

There was no doubt among the 2019-20 group, however, that it could have reached new heights — as the Terps were projected to be one of the four No. 1 seeds.

There was little doubt nationally too, as Oregon guard Taylor Chaves even mentioned the Terps in her venting after the NCAA cancelation.

While the question remains — and always will — about what was in store for Maryland women’s basketball in late March/early April, the Terps finished at No. 4 in the nation in the final AP Poll and will forever be remember by the final scenes of confetti falling, nets being cut and the word “CHAMPIONS” in Indianapolis.

“No question [this was one of my best teams],” Frese said. “This team was so extremely close. I liken them to the 2006 national championship team. … We kind of felt like this group probably was going to have another opportunity to hang another banner in Xfinity that we won’t ever know.”