COLLEGE PARK - Floor burns were definitely part of the deal. You don't start building a winning tradition without knowing you've got to give up the body.
Shay Doron understood that when she and Kalika France happily signed up to play women's basketball at the University of Maryland. The highly touted guards gave Maryland coach Brenda Frese the fourth-best recruiting class in the country in 2003. They wanted to start something.
Well, look where they are now.
Ranked No. 16 in the country, and even the coach admits things are ahead of schedule.
"I couldn't be more pleased with the talent and how hard these players play when they step on the court," Frese said last night.
By leaps and bounds, the Terps have rocketed up the charts, poised just below the elite programs of the past decade: Duke, LSU, Stanford, Connecticut, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Purdue, Notre Dame, Georgia.
Last night, the young Terps bolstered their win total by beating Virginia, 63-60. It's not all pretty or smooth sailing. The Terps lost freshman forward Laura Harper earlier this season to an Achilles' tear and played significant minutes last night without fearless leader Doron, who had scored 37 and 39 points in two of the Terps' previous three games.
With the drive and will to dive for loose balls - anything and everything to get the job done - Doron also leaves herself vulnerable to injury.
Doron's right shoulder was tender from a sprawling dive in the first half, and her absence left the Terps without their most potent scoring option for a few long stretches in the second half.
With a little more than five minutes left in the game, the score tied at 45, freshman center Crystal Langhorne and Doron checked back into the game. With all their starters on the floor, the Terps used the final minutes to build a lead over the Cavaliers - then refused to relinquish it.
"It was ugly, but I'm proud of the way they hung in there at the end," Frese said.
If the Terps are young enough to have lost a tough overtime game to Florida State last week because of inexperience, they're also hungry, determined and talented enough to find ways not to lose many more games they shouldn't.
A win like last night's only further helps point the Terps toward an NCAA tournament berth, which will likely mean they'll be playing March 20 in College Park. Maryland is hosting a sub-regional for the women's tournament.
Considering everything else good that has happened and the fast track the Terps are on, it seems destiny that they can showcase their emergence as a power program at home.
If Comcast Center can give birth to Garyland, there's likely to be further upside for fan interest for Frese's squad, too. The first test will be Feb. 13 against Duke. Maryland will attempt to set an Atlantic Coast Conference women's attendance record - another nice feather for a program that is geared for a big run for the long haul.
It's one thing for a university to say it wants to upgrade its women's basketball program.
There's no harm, no foul in uttering that wish, not in these gender-equity times; not with a generation of girls who've grown up with posters of Lisa Leslie and Sue Bird on their walls.
More girls got game these days. And more university administrators and athletic directors are eager to pay lip service about supporting a women's team the way they do the men.
Then there's the University of Maryland.
Lip service would hardly begin to describe the level of commitment - emotional and financial - that has been thrown at the Terps.
Emotional support is actually the least of it, and that's really saying something, particularly if you've ever watched Debbie Yow, Maryland's director of athletics, physically recoil and fret over every Maryland turnover or missed free throw.
There were too many of those last night, when the Terps struggled to put away Virginia, pushing their home winning streak to nine games and notching another important ACC win.
Those wins are bricks in the foundation, but a look at the big picture and it's pretty heady stuff.
Maryland women's basketball is serious business - with an emphasis on business, as in wins and economics.
Within the past six months, Frese's contract was extended three years. That takes the Associated Press' 2002 Coach of the Year's commitment to Maryland through 2010.
"And that includes a buyout for the mid-six figures," Yow said last night.
Said university president C.D. "Dan" Mote Jr.: "She can leave. We wouldn't want anyone working here under duress, but this makes it a little more difficult."
Not to mention a little more expensive for any other university that might look at Maryland and decide it wants to do what's being done in College Park.
"There's no question that you have to play up to the facility you're in; that's true of the performing arts or anything else," Mote said.
"We're serious," Yow said.
She didn't need to say it. Class after class of top recruits, the big wins over North Carolina, the national ranking, the ESPN Web journals and the Comcast Under The Shell reality show all say it louder, and clearer.