A lot has to go right. Nobody can get injured. The gifted freshmen have to blend with the existing players. It also wouldn't hurt to have the ball bounce their way at least a couple of times.

But if all those things happen, this could be the season that the once-proud Maryland women's basketball team reasserts itself on the national stage.

"We feel like we are on the brink of a breakthrough with this program," Coach Brenda Frese said. "But we never get too focused on the future because there are too many improbabilities out there."

Today, Maryland (1-0) plays its home opener against Siena at 2 p.m.

This turnaround has come about much quicker than Frese anticipated when she arrived in College Park two years ago. At that time, Maryland had fallen off the national scene and to near the bottom of the ACC. The Terrapins' record had hovered around .500 for much of the past decade, except for the disastrous 6-21 season in 1998-99. They had managed to win only one ACC tournament game in the previous four seasons. Although they had made the NCAA tournament twice since 1993, they failed to advance past the first round.

This downturn was jarring given the history of the program. Maryland once had been one of the standard-bearers in women's basketball. The Terrapins played in two Final Fours in the 1980s and were ranked No. 1 in the country during the 1991-92 season. Those were the days when Maryland attracted some of the top talent in women's basketball. Players from those teams went on to become all-Americans, U.S. Olympic team members and WNBA professionals.

Few observers expected a quick turnaround when Frese arrived. Yet relying on players already in the program, the Terrapins reached the second round of the NCAA tournament last season.

"All the credit goes to the players," Frese said. "They've worked on their games. They've gotten better. . . . We're definitely ahead of schedule in terms of what it takes to normally rebuild a program, but the players that we inherited bought into our system and our belief. They're the reason why I think this program has grown faster rather than slower."

Last season, Maryland was picked to finish eighth in an ACC preseason poll and wound up third. The Terrapins reached the ACC tournament semifinals for the first time since 1998 and won their first NCAA tournament game in 12 years. Their 18 wins were the most since the 1996-97 season.

Senior point guard Anesia Smith (Hayfield) was one of the players who remained rather than transfer to another school when Frese arrived. She is one of three players left on the roster who was not recruited by Frese.

"I couldn't see myself just bailing without giving it a chance," Smith said. "The first two years the staff was here we sat down and had a lot of conversations. It was going to be a building process. They said from the beginning they were going to bring in the best and soon it would be the best. They haven't failed. They're continuing to bring in the best, and pretty soon Maryland will be the best."

Last season's success has made people take notice. But for the players Frese recruited the past two years, they had to trust that Maryland was a program on the rise.

"I wasn't looking to come to a team that was already built," sophomore guard Shay Doron said. "I wanted to come in and impact a program. I wanted to have that excitement of doing what we did last year, which is just a greater feeling. It's a different feeling of accomplishment."

The pieces seem to be falling into place. The players back from last season are brimming with confidence. The four freshmen, rated the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation by one publication, are talented. Yet the question remains: Can Maryland manage the expectations that are being placed on it?

"We don't sell ourselves short at all," Doron said. "An ACC championship is definitely our goal. We have to believe it. We have to have the mentality of being great."