With the departures of guard Taylor Mikesell, forward Shakira Austin and center Olivia Owens over the offseason, Maryland women’s basketball needed to readjust.
While the losses seemed like a blow, head coach Brenda Frese used the transfer portal to add two, soon to be three, key additions to her fiercely competitive roster.
These recently signed Terps include senior forward Chloe Bibby from Mississippi State, senior guard Katie Benzan from Harvard and senior guard Alaysia Styles from Berkeley, who arrived in College Park in December. There’s also redshirt sophomore forward Mimi Collins, who came over from Tennessee last season but didn’t have eligibility until 2020-21.
“I’m not worried about our offense, Frese said before the start of the season. “We have a tremendous amount of firepower,”
A multitude of players have had explosive games, and Collins, Benzan and Bibby are no exception. The transfer trio has combined for 308 points, 131 rebounds and 54 assists through eight games. They make up for about 40% of Maryland’s points thus far this season.
Before the 2019-2020 season, Frese added Collins to the mix. During her freshman year at Tennessee, the 6-foot-3 Maryland native appeared in all 32 games with the Volunteers, averaging 5.5 points and 3.4 rebounds.
“It came down to me making a decision for myself and what benefited me and what I thought was best for my future,” Collins said in November.
Following her redshirt season, Collins made her Maryland debut on the court in the first game of 2020-21 against Davidson in the Gulf Coast Showcase. She finished with seven points and six rebounds.
In November before the start of the season, Frese remarked, “[Collins] spent the year sitting out and she’s bigger, stronger… can extend that range for us and brings a level of toughness with rebounding and her defense.”
Collins is delivering on Frese’s high hopes for the Terps.
In the Dec. 3 game against Towson, freshman forward Angel Reese injured her right foot. Up to that point, she had recorded 53 points and 28 rebounds in four games. When it was later revealed that Reese would need surgery and was projected to be out until the end of February, Collins knew she had large shoes to fill. She took that role seriously.
Collins earned her first start with the Terps against James Madison after a career-high 22-point performance against the Scarlett Knights. Against the Dukes, Collins finished the game with a double-double, recording 14 points and 11 boards.
Over eight games, Collins has recorded 84 points and 56 rebounds.
The addition of two older players in Benzan and Bibby has given the Terps leadership and stability they need during an unpredictable season. Before the start, Frese praised the duo for the attributes they contribute to the team.
“[Katie Benzan] really brought that high IQ, that leadership, the communication that we really need from the guard position,” the head coach said.
The leadership skills Benzan gained during her time as a three-time All-Ivy League First Team honoree for Harvard has translated to success on the court as Terp.
In the third game of the season, Maryland was 1-1 after a loss to No. 24 Missouri State, determined to bounce back strong. After going shot for shot with Arkansas in the first few minutes of the game, the Maryland senior guard sank her first three-point shot of the day to spark a 10-0 run. Benzan finished the game with 28 points and a program record-tying eight triples.
In the game against Towson, the Terps set a new Big Ten conference recorded by sinking 21 three-point shots. Benzan contributed about 30% of the shots, leading Maryland with six triples on the night.
Over eight games, Benzan has 121 points (she ranks third on the team with 15.1 points per game), 12 boards, 19 assists, and she leads the team from behind the arc with 29 successful three-point shots made.
“I just wanted to find a competitive program where everyone was very passionate and just loved the game,” Benzan said before the start of the season. “I wasn’t necessarily focused on my role but more of just the competitive environment that I wanted to spend my last year.”
That is something she and Bibby have in common; both were looking to join a team that loves to compete.
In her last two seasons at Mississippi State, Bibby averaged 9.1 points and 4.8 boards per game, and she is the only player on the current roster who has played in a Final Four game.
Frese said that when Bibby arrived, she “made her leadership felt right away” and that, since she has been to a Final Four, the Australia native has the competitive nature that fits into the roster.
“There is no reason why we cannot win a national championship,” Bibby said during the preseason. “Just the amount of talent that we have on this team is ridiculous, and Coach Frese, she knows how to coach talent and she knows how to you know make us win games.”
The 6-foot-1 forward’s competitive drive translates well on the court. In the game against Missouri State, Bibby and Benzan contributed 81.3% of Maryland’s triples as they combined for a total of 13 successful shots from behind the arc.
Bibby had back-to-back double-double performances against both Rutgers and James Madison, recording 21 points and 11 boards and 17 points and 10 boards, respectively. Bibby also leads the team in rebounds through eight games with 63 — 39 of those coming on the defensive end.
Although the roster is small, Collins, Benzan and Bibby add talented depth to the team. The transfers melded with veteran players like 2019-2020 Big Ten Freshman of the Year sophomore guard Ashley Owusu, sophomore guard Diamond Miller and sophomore forward Faith Masonius to allow the Terps to start the season 7-1, including wins over a ranked opponent and two tough Big Ten teams.
Benzan is the first graduate transfer in program history, and the second is the latest addition to the Maryland roster: Alaysia “Birdy” Styles.
“We have known ‘Bird’ since we recruited her back in high school. At 6-foot-3 and as a grad transfer she will bring immediate size, depth and maturity into our program right away,” Frese said in a press release back in September 2020.
The San Diego native played three seasons at Berkeley and averaged 4.6 points and 2.8 boards per game. In her final season in California, Styles started in 30 games, averaging 8.4 points per game. She has been to two NCAA Tournaments and had back-to-back 20-win seasons in 2018 and 2019 as a Golden Bear.
“She is a versatile player that runs the floor hard and can rebound and score from so many areas,” Frese said. “On top of that, she comes from a conference where she has gained a tremendous amount of experience in Pac-12 play. It has been a long-awaited time and we can’t wait for her to get here,”
Now the wait is over and Styles has arrived on the East Coast. Ahead of the Indiana matchup, Frese said the forward started practicing with the team but is still waiting for the transcripts from Berkeley to be officially cleared to play.
“At this point, it’s a crash course, said Frese. “The staff has done a great job, the team as well, just getting her caught up to speed, comfortable and confident to be able to help this team and she’s really picking things up quickly.”
With Styles officially on the roster, the Terps now have 11 players. Although their rotation is the smallest in the Big Ten, the depth of talent is there, and the transfers play a large role in Maryland’s success.
“Everyone loved last year’s team. That’s great, but we’ve reloaded,” Bibby said before the start of the season. “This is a completely new team with a lot of talent. And I don’t think we’ve missed a beat honestly.”