Terps start off with high hopes

Team looks to contend in ACC after strong finish

Women's College Basketball

October 21, 2004|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - The University of Maryland women's basketball team is quite young, but the Terrapins are no longer talking about rebuilding their program.

One year after tying for third in the Atlantic Coast Conference, winning their first NCAA tournament game in 12 seasons and nearly beating conference kingpin Duke in the league tournament, the Terps consider themselves serious ACC players.

Never mind that eight of Maryland's 11 scholarship players are either freshmen or sophomores. With a four-player recruiting class deemed one of the best in the nation, and with a backcourt featuring celebrated sophomore duo Shay Doron and Kalika France, the Terps do not doubt that they belong.

Point guard Anesia Smith, one of two seniors, looks at Maryland's No. 12 preseason ranking in Athlon's College Basketball Annual as further validation of the Terps' progress.

"We worked hard enough to think we're good," Smith said. "There's a buzz around our team, an aura. I don't ever remember us being this hungry [before a season has begun]. I wish I had one more year with these guys."

Third-year coach Brenda Frese loves the talent and depth on this team. At yesterday's media day, Frese also tried to downplay the high expectations that are following Maryland for a change.

The Terps went 18-13 a year ago, including a surprising 8-8 in the ACC. They had more wins than any Terps' team since 1997. After getting their first NCAA tournament invitation in seven years, then upsetting fifth-seeded Miami in the first round, Maryland lost to Louisiana State, which went on to the Final Four.

"You really see a renewed sense of confidence with our returning players. I still think we need to be cautiously optimistic," Frese said. "Although this is by far the most talent we've had, we have to keep in perspective that our four freshmen will be playing a substantial amount this season. They'll go through highs and lows."

That foursome - guard Ashleigh Newman and post players Crystal Langhorne, Laura Harper and Jade Perry - were tabbed the country's No. 2 recruiting class by The Blue Star Report. They are expected to grab major minutes in Maryland's eight-player rotation. Langhorne and Harper could be starters when Maryland opens on Nov. 19 at Appalachian State.

Langhorne, 6 feet 3, was a first-team McDonald's and Parade All-American at Willingboro (N.J.) High last year. Harper, 6-4, a Parade All-American at Cheltenham High in Elkins Park, Pa., played for the USA Junior National Team in France last summer.

Then there is the 6-1 Perry from Muhlenberg North High. She was a Miss Basketball finalist in Kentucky. Newman, a 5-10 guard from Shelbyville Central High, was a Miss Basketball finalist in Tennessee last spring.

"After the first week of practice, I believe they are the real deal. Some of them will play at the next level," said France, 5-9, who is the team's second-leading returning scorer (11.7 ppg).

Frese said the play of France, Doron and Smith in the backcourt will weigh heavily on Maryland's performance, especially in the early going, while the newcomers up front adjust to the Division I game. Smith offers a steadying hand. Doron, 5-9, the top returning scorer (13.5 ppg), also will back up Smith at point guard.

Frese sees the Terps inching closer to Duke, and possibly knocking off the perennial power. Maryland narrowly lost to the Blue Devils, 70-63, in the ACC tournament semifinals in March. She envisions a sellout at Comcast Center when Duke comes there on Feb. 13, a year after Maryland drew 13,446 - the second-largest crowd in the league's women's basketball history - who witnessed a 13-point loss to the Blue Devils.

"Our chemistry is at an all-time high. [The players] have set their sights on new goals," Frese said. "They don't want this to be a one-time thing."

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