Expectations are high for Maryland women's basketball after last season's unexpected trip to the second round of the NCAA tournament and the addition of a highly touted recruiting class.
"We're young, so dealing with the hype and staying grounded will be the biggest things for our team to have to deal with," said senior guard Anesia Smith (Hayfield). "But I think we'll be fine. We've got a great group of leaders."
Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said at yesterday's media day that it will be up to the coaching staff to keep those expectations in line; however, Frese acknowledged that she is one of those who has high hopes for this team.
"We have the most talent we've had since we've been here," Frese said. "But at the same point, bringing in four freshmen, we're really young. People have to understand that and be patient with that."
What experience Maryland has is in its back court. Guards Smith, a senior, and Kalika France (Bishop McNamara) and Shay Doron, both sophomores, are the only starters returning from last season's 18-13 team. Frese brought in two McDonald's all-American freshmen post players, 6-foot-4 Laura Harper and 6-3 Crystal Langhorne, to bolster the front court.
While the freshmen grow into their roles, it will be up to France and Doron to score without diminishing the younger players' confidence.
"Nobody lost confidence in me [when I was a freshman], and I had a few down games," France said. "I have their backs 100 percent. . . . I share everything as much as possible because I want them to be successful. I know there's a lot of weight on their shoulders, though they might not think it. Definitely, we want them to be comfortable."
The freshmen are trying to come up to speed as quickly as possible.
"We can't really dwell on the fact that we're freshmen," Harper said. "If we start dwelling on the fact that, 'Oh, we're freshmen. We can make those mistakes,' then we're not really going to do what Coach B expects of us."
Meanwhile, three other area women's teams are adjusting to new coaches. Terri Williams-Flournoy takes over at Georgetown, and Melissa McFerrin steps in at American. Virginia Tech has a new coach, Beth Dunkenberger, and a new conference, the ACC. Senior forward Anna Montanana leads the way for George Washington. George Mason and Navy have big voids to fill. The Patriots must replace four seniors who formed their most successful class in school history. The Midshipmen graduated the prolific back court of Courtney Davidson and Maile Shimoda. Virginia looks to rebound from its first non-winning season since 1978 and its failure to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years. Howard seeks a better start after losing its first nine games en route to an 11-17 record last season.
-- Kathy Orton