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Maryland Women Getting Ready For World University Games

July 14, 2017
From October through March, the sound of basketballs bouncing on the Xfinity Center court is a commonplace occurrence. But the summer months are usually quiet, save for the youth camps that occupy the University of Maryland's arena. 

But the summer of 2017 is different. The Maryland women's basketball team has taken over the arena, in advance of a long road trip. The Terps are sharpening their skills for the World University Games, which are scheduled for August 19-30 in Taipei, Taiwan. Head coach Brenda Frese's squad was chosen by the United States International University Sports Federation (US-IUSF) to represent America in the Games, which feature teams from 16 countries. 

"It's only the second time a women's [college] team has been invited to go over, so we're extremely honored," Frese said. "We're not only representing Maryland, we're representing the United States." 
 
Maryland has been assigned to Pool C, which also includes the Czech Republic, Poland and Uganda. The Terps will open their international experience with a matchup against Uganda Aug. 21 and conclude pool play with matchups against Poland (Aug. 22) and the Czech Republic (Aug. 23). The quarterfinals and semifinals are scheduled for Aug. 25-26, with the medal-round games Aug. 28. 

"This tournament is way bigger than us," said redshirt senior guard Ieshia Small. "We've heard that it's going to be very physical, so we're going to have to go out and play harder than we ever have before. Every possession and every play has to matter." 

Teams representing the United States have compiled a 109-22 record in 19 World University Games appearances, while earning nine gold, six silver and one bronze medal. Maryland is just the third collegiate women's team to represent the United States in the biannual Games. UNC-Charlotte (2007) was the only previous full collegiate team to participate in the Games, while the Big 12 Conference sent an all-league team in 2003. The men's teams from Northern Iowa (2007) and Kansas (2015) have participated in previous World University Games, and Purdue will send its team this summer. 

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Maryland sophomore guard Blair Watson said. "I think this trip will bring us closer together. There's definitely some pressure, because we're representing everybody here in America rather than just our university." 

Frese and her staff have been emphasizing the differences in the international game to their 11-player squad. 

"A lot of the rules are different," said Frese, who took her team to Italy for a series of games during the summer of 2016. "The 3-point line is moved back, there's an eight-second count in the backcourt and the shot clock resets to 15 seconds. That's what we're trying to work through in our practices to get our team ready, so that it's not completely different once we get over there."
 
The Maryland team that will take the floor in Taipei looks much different than the one that posted a 32-3 record, won its second consecutive Big Ten championship and reached the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 during the 2016-17 season. The Terps graduated two of the best players in program history, center Brionna Jones and guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough. Four players transferred during the offseason. Point guard Destiny Slocum, who was named the National Freshman of the Year by the Women's Basketball Coaches' Association, transferred to Oregon State. Ciara Leslie (North Carolina State), Kiah Gillespie (Florida State) and Jenna Staiti (Georgia) will also be playing elsewhere next season. 

The World University Games team will be led by Maryland's two returning starters, sophomore guard Kaila Charles (9.7 points, 5.6 rebounds per game) and senior guard Kristen Confroy (5.1 points, 3.7 rebounds). The lengthy airplane ride to Taiwan will provide a much-needed rest for Confroy, who has just come through a rigorous academic regimen. 

"I was studying for the MCAT (medical school qualifying exam) over the spring semester," said Confroy, a two-time CoSIDA Academic All-District selection. "After that test was over, I felt like I had so much free time. Then I took a tough summer school course. Going to Taiwan, it's crazy to think that I'm going to have this long plane ride with nothing to do. It's so surreal to me, because that never happens. " 

To bolster her World University Games roster, Frese has added a former Maryland player and an All-Big Ten guard. Malina Howard, who was a key player for Maryland's 2013-14 and 2014-15 NCAA Final Four teams, and former Michigan State guard Tori Jankoska will make the trip. 

Howard was previously a member of two gold-medal teams at the FIBA World Championships, including the 2010 Under-18 squad and the 2011 Under-19 team. Jankoska set the Michigan State career scoring record with 2,212 points, and was a four-time All-Big Ten choice. Jankoska, who was chosen by the Chicago Sky with the ninth pick in the 2017 WNBA draft, also holds the Spartan career records for free throws made (478) and 3-pointers (320) and is second in program history with 489 assists. 

Confroy, one of just eight returnees from last year's team, understands the value of the additional practices and conditioning sessions to the development of the 2017-18 Terps. 

"It's been different on the court, because we lost such big pieces like Shatori and Bri," Confroy said. "This summer has really been about getting on the court and figuring out who is going to step into what roles. Being able to prep for [the Games] has been an awesome opportunity beyond just the fact that we get to represent the country. It's allowed us to jell as a team and really get ready for next season."