COLLEGE PARK - Midway through the NCAA's televised show for revealing selections for its women's basketball tournament, the letter "M" was playing havoc with Maryland's team, which was hoping for a chance to play on the college sport's biggest stage.
Marquette, Montana, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Marist and Michigan State all popped up on the screen watched by roughly 120 in a banquet hall inside Comcast Center.
But the anxiety was finally relieved when it was announced that Maryland (17-12) would be the West Regional's 12th seed, playing No. 5 seed Miami (22-6) in Baton Rouge, La., on Sunday. "Way too many M's," said Maryland coach Brenda Frese, whose team will make its first NCAA appearance since 2001, and just the third since 1994.
"Just to finally see Maryland come up - and I really like our draw, I think we can do a lot of damage with it."
The thought of Maryland as a dangerous team would have been a novel idea at the start of the season. Coming off a 10-18 season in 2002-03, the Terps were predicted to finish eighth in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
And in its second season under Frese, the program was expected to continue to improve, but not fully develop until next season - helped by a trio of well-regarded front-court players scheduled to arrive in the fall.
But the Terps began the season 11-3 - including wins in their first ACC games - on the way to a third-place tie with North Carolina State.
"No one thought that we'd be in this position," Maryland senior guard Vicki Brick said. "Even the last two years, when we didn't make the tournament, you thought that you had a chance."
After a stretch in which Maryland went 4-8, the team finished strong, ending the regular season with a win at Clemson. It followed that with a victory over Florida State in the ACC tournament before a close loss to top-ranked Duke on March 6.
Yet with a 1-9 record against the Top 50 in the power rankings, the Terps' inclusion in the NCAA field was no sure thing, despite its strong showing in a conference rated third in the Rating Percentage Index.
Thus the team balanced positive and negative thoughts throughout the day, until the room erupted with screams when the good news arrived.
"I had a terrible practice because I was so nervous," said senior forward Delvona Oliver. "I've been nervous since I woke up this morning. When I finally saw Maryland, I didn't even know who we were playing."
Frese believed that what the team has been able to do recently helped. She thought a good starting point was its recent effort against Duke.
"It showed that we were a confident team and that we could play with anyone," she said. "I wouldn't want to draw us - the matchup problem is with us."
Cheryl Marra, chairman of the selection committee, said of the Terps: "They certainly positioned themselves toward the end of the season with the last two or three weeks as they were going through the ACC schedule. They're one of the bubble teams that we did consider and were able to earn their way into the NCAA tournament."
Miami, which finished third in the Big East, isn't much different from the team that played the Terps last year, winning that matchup, 97-66, in a holiday tournament.
Four of its five starters are juniors or seniors, led by senior foward Chanivia Broussarrd, who averaged 14.9 points and 6.1 rebounds this season. The team's top scorer is Tamara Jones, who has a 16.6-point average.
Next for Terps women
NCAA tournament first round: Maryland (17-12) vs. Miami (Fla.) (22-6) in West Regional
Seeds: Maryland, No. 12; Miami, No. 5.
Site: Pete Maravich Assembly Center, Baton Rouge, La.
When: Sunday, TBA