Kristen Confroy isn't like most college students.
The University of Maryland's junior guard was born on Leap Day, so she only gets to celebrate her Feb. 29 birthday every four years. During an era of unprecedented sports specialization, she played three different sports through high school. Confroy is also a double major in neurobiology and physiology and is planning to attend medical school after her 2018 graduation.
But on the basketball court, Confroy blends in perfectly with a Maryland team that starts two candidates for National Player of the Year and a pair of the sport's top freshmen. The Terps are contenders for another Big Ten championship and Final Four berth for several reasons. Senior leaders Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough are providing leadership and production at both ends of the floor. Freshmen Destiny Slocum and Kaila Charles have performed beyond their years. But the Terps' unsung hero is Confroy, a steady and dependable guard who can convert the 3-pointer, play standout defense and rarely commits a turnover.
Confroy has averaged 4.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.3 steals, as of Feb. 6, for a Terps team that has achieved a 23-1 record (11-0 Big Ten) and No. 3 national ranking. An adept ball-handler, the Solon, Ohio, native has the team's best assist-to-turnover ratio (57-17). She is converting 37 percent of her 3-point attempts and shooting 78 percent from the free-throw line.
"You have to love the fact that Kristen is not caught up in stats," Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said. "We have a lot of firepower in our starting lineup, but she just patiently waits to give a great assist, knock down an open three, set a great screen or get an out-area rebound. She's a player who just wants to do anything she can to help this team win."
Confroy competed in soccer, basketball and softball from her early years through her standout high school career.
Confroy excelled in all three sports at Solon High School, south of Cleveland. She averaged 19.3 points, 6.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds at Solon and capped her senior season by being named the area's Player of the Year by the
Cleveland Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com. During her junior year, Confroy was the
Plain Dealer's Softball Player of the Year and earned first-team All-Greater Cleveland honors as a soccer goalkeeper.
"The biggest thing that playing all the sports helped me with was having something new all the time," Confroy said. "I was still invested and passionate about each sport, and that prevented me from burning out with basketball. I had other avenues to enjoy."
Confroy could have competed at the collegiate level in any of the three sports, but she chose to continue with basketball.
"It wasn't until high school that I really decided that basketball was my sport," Confroy said. "I just had more of a passion for basketball. I always dreamed of going to a big school and playing Division I basketball."
Frese, who had guided Maryland to the NCAA Final Four during Confroy's final high school campaign, admired her toughness and leadership abilities.
"The first time that I went to see her play, I likened her to [former UConn guard] Kelly Faris," Frese said. "Kristen is the player that every team has to have, who is going to do all of the little, unsung-hero things that may or may not show up on the stat sheet.
"Through the course of her time here, she has been the glue that keeps it all together. She doesn't turn the ball over and brings the same attitude of toughness every day. She really has a sense of what we need."
During her freshman season at Maryland, Confroy got her first taste of the Final Four. She averaged 3.9 points and 1.1 assists for a Maryland team that tied a school single-season record with 34 wins before losing to Connecticut in the NCAA semifinals.
"Going to the Final Four was incredible," Confroy said. "As a freshman, I was eyes-wide-open, deer-in-the-headlights for most of that year. The biggest thing I learned in my freshman year was how important the mental side of basketball is."
The 5-foot-9 Confroy broke into the starting lineup at the beginning of her sophomore season and played a key role in the Terps' 31-4 campaign. She established career-highs in points (8.0 per game), rebounds (4.2) and assists (1.8). Confroy was a marksman from both 3-point range (41 percent) and the free-throw line (83 percent).
Midway through the 2015-16 season, Confroy put together the best game of her collegiate career. During an 80-62 win against visiting Northwestern, she set a career single-game high with 24 points and contributed 10 rebounds and six assists. Confroy also tied the school record with eight 3-pointers (in 10 attempts).
"For me, a big confidence booster was our game last season against UConn at Madison Square Garden," Confroy said. "That was the first turning point for me, where the game started to slow down. In the Northwestern game, I just felt incredible. You take that feeling and keep working to try to do it again."
Confroy doesn't need to score in bunches on a team that has four double-figure scorers in the starting lineup.
"My role has been different each season," Confroy said. "Being willing to take on whatever role that is necessary is important for having a successful team."
Confroy will have to adjust to another role when she leaves Maryland and heads for medical school. Her ultimate goal weighed heavily in Confroy's college choice.
"I've always wanted to be a doctor, so I knew that I was going to have a rigorous course load," said Confroy, who is aiming for a career in sports medicine. "Trying to find a program that was willing to let me play basketball and pursue this other tough path was important. Coach Frese has been phenomenal. She understands that our [basketball] careers are going to end at some point, and she wanted me to be able to pursue what I wanted to do."
Issue 230: February 2017