For U-Md. Women, No Time Like Now

By Kathy Orton
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, March 29, 2006

No one would blame Maryland freshman point guard Kristi Toliver for thinking that getting to a Final Four is easy. After all, in her first season, she and the Terrapins are bound for Boston after their 75-65 overtime win against Utah in Monday night's Albuquerque Region final. And if they don't win it all, well, she will have three more chances at a national title during her college career.

But Toliver understands how fleeting championship runs can be. This may be Maryland's third trip to the women's Final Four, but it is the Terrapins' first since 1989.

"I am definitely not taking this for granted," Toliver said. "I remember [San Antonio Spurs all-star] Tim Duncan said a few years ago when he won his first [NBA] championship that he took that for granted and that kind of kept him hungry. I definitely learned from his experience not to take anything for granted."

Because it is so young, Maryland -- which has only two seniors on its roster and none in the starting lineup -- will likely be a favorite for next year's national championship regardless of this year's outcome. But the Terrapins aren't counting how many titles they could win; their only focus is winning their first. They know it is foolhardy to think that this Final Four run guarantees them a spot in next year's.

"This being my first tournament, I definitely don't take anything for granted because no game is really promised," sophomore forward Laura Harper said. "There are only four teams left, and we're one of the four that started out from the original 64. I don't see how we can take this for granted."

Rather than looking ahead, Maryland is relishing the moment. Throughout the NCAA tournament, the Terrapins have delighted in their new experiences and taken advantage of the access that comes from being a part of the event. Sophomore forward Jade Perry made sure to ask former Connecticut standout and current ESPN sideline reporter Rebecca Lobo for her autograph. Perry was thrilled to get back a slip of paper with "To my favorite headband wearing, smiling player. Rebecca Lobo" written on it. Toliver was disappointed she forgot to bring Lobo's book for her to sign.

"It's definitely been really cool," Toliver said. "Growing up you pretend to have these interviews with these people. Now you're actually seeing Rebecca Lobo behind your bench and you're actually getting to speak to her, Nancy Lieberman, people like that. Debbie Antonelli, we're friends with her. Definitely, it's been a really cool experience."

The players' families and friends are caught up in the excitement as well. Junior guard Shay Doron is hearing from people both near and far. Not only has she received e-mails from her professors at Maryland, Doron has also become quite a celebrity in Israel. The Terrapins' games are being broadcast live in her home country.

"In Israel, this is a really big story," Doron said. "I don't think any Jewish athlete has been this far in an NCAA tournament. It's a pretty big deal in Israel."

Not even the routine of cutting down the nets is taken for granted by the players and coaches. This was the first time any of the players cut down nets in college, and for Coach Brenda Frese, it was the first time in her life.

"We won a state [high school] championship back in Iowa, but I guess they didn't let you cut down the nets," she said. "In college, I had a lot of foot surgeries so I only got to play a couple seasons. I think [cutting down the nets is] what makes this [win against Utah] even more special."

Even though this is all new to them, it won't be the first trip to a Final Four for a few of the players. Last year, Toliver and fellow freshman Marissa Coleman went to participate in a high school all-star game.

"We called it," Toliver said. "We said 'Boston '06.' We've been calling it for almost a year now. The fact that it's in reach is almost overwhelming. It's so surreal, kind of a dream come true almost."

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