During the first three seasons of her collegiate career, guard Kristen Confroy was surrounded by some of the most prominent players in University of Maryland women's basketball history. Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough were two of the program's most accomplished players, and Destiny Slocum was named the Women's Basketball Coaches Association's 2016-17 National Freshman of the Year.
But Confroy won't be sharing the court with that trio this season. Jones and Walker-Kimbrough have graduated to professional basketball careers, and Slocum transferred to Oregon State after her sterling freshman campaign.
Confroy is looking forward to playing for a team without superstars.
"We had such high-powered scoring threats, and I was more behind the scenes," said Confroy, who averaged 5.1 points and 3.7 rebounds while starting all 35 games for the 2016-17 Terps. "This is such a different look for our team. We won't have someone scoring 25 points or getting 10 rebounds a game, but we'll have a more balanced team. I'm very excited to have a bigger role, to be more of an offensive threat and play all over the floor."
The 2016-17 Terps were a deep and experienced team that finished with a 32-3 record, won a third consecutive Big Ten championship and reached the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 for the fifth time in the past six seasons. A year later, Maryland will be a markedly different squad. The Terps will enter the season without a single returning player who averaged in double figures in scoring, but their balance could be an asset against a schedule that is filled with high-profile nonconference opponents and quality Big Ten foes.
The Terps got a head start on the 2017-18 season in August, when they traveled to Taipei, Taiwan, to represent the United States in the World University Games. Maryland went 5-1 on the grueling trip, with its only loss coming to Australia.
"It was good for our team to be able to practice all summer leading up to the trip," Confroy said. "It gave us a chance to see what our team will look like. We're already ahead of where we usually are at this time of year."
Head coach Brenda Frese was pleased with her team's effort on the overseas trip.
"It was an incredible experience for our program," said Frese, who is entering her 16th season as Maryland's head coach. "It gave us an earlier window of life without Bri and Shatori. Our team really bonded, and this is the closest chemistry that I've ever seen from any team."
Frese is counting heavily on sophomore guard Kaila Charles, who was named to the preseason All-Big Ten team, and Confroy to be the leaders of the new-look Terps.
"It starts with Kaila and Kristen," Frese said. "Kaila is the motor that makes us go. Kristen has been to a Final Four, and she has the experience to lead."
Charles made an impact during her freshman season. The 6-foot-1 native of Glenn Dale, Md., who earned a spot on the Big Ten's All-Freshman team after averaging 9.7 points and 5.6 rebounds, is expected to be the on-court leader of the young squad. She paced the Terps in Taiwan, averaging 15.3 points and 8.0 rebounds per game.
"Kaila's the vocal one out there," Frese said. "Kaila is very similar to the elite players that we've had here. She's been working on her range and her versatility."
The Terps' preseason roster had just 10 players. Charles and Confroy will anchor the Maryland backcourt, which will also rely on redshirt senior Ieshia Small (5.1 points, 2.1 assists) and sophomore Blair Watson (2.9 points, 2.2 rebounds) to help overcome the losses of Walker-Kimbrough, a two-time All-American who averaged 18.8 points and 3.6 assists last season, and Slocum (11.5 points, 6.0 assists). Small (12.0 points) and Watson (11.3 points) were among the top scorers during the Taiwan trip.
"Blair is a tremendous 3-point shooter and one of our best defenders," Frese said. "The big difference is that she's fully healthy this year."
They will be joined in the backcourt by returning sophomore Sarah Myers (1.4 points) and a pair of newcomers in freshman Channise Lewis and Florida transfer Eleanna Christinaki. Lewis, the Terps' only freshman, led Miami (Fla.) Country Day School to four consecutive state titles. Christinaki, a member of the 2015-16 All-Southeastern Conference Freshman team, averaged 17.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists for the Gators last season before transferring to Maryland. Christinaki will become eligible for the Terps' Dec. 20 game at Coppin State.
In the frontcourt, the Terps will have to replace the significant production of Jones, a three-time All-Big Ten selection who led the 2016-17 squad in scoring (19.9 points), rebounding (10.9), and steals (1.9) and paced the nation with a .690 field-goal percentage. The Terps' low post was further depleted by the offseason transfers of Kiah Gillespie and Jenna Staiti. Maryland will turn to a pair of returning forwards in junior Brianna Fraser (6.1 points, 3.6 rebounds) and sophomore Stephanie Jones (4.1 points, 2.0 rebounds). Redshirt junior Aja Ellison, who did not play during the 2016-17 season, will return to the Maryland frontcourt.
"Brianna is one of our most talented players," Frese said of Fraser. "She needs to become that reliable scorer and rebounder for us."
The Terps' non-league slate is loaded with matchups against teams that participated in the 2016-17 postseason. Maryland will face three NCAA Tournament teams, including America East champion Albany (Nov. 10), defending national champion South Carolina (Nov. 13) and NCAA semifinalist Connecticut (Nov. 19), and could face a fourth in Atlantic Coast Conference power Miami (Thanksgiving tournament Nov. 26 in Miami). Also on the early-season schedule are matchups with Virginia (Nov. 29), Akron (Dec. 2) and George Washington (Dec. 8), who earned bids to the Women's National Invitation Tournament last season.
"If you want to be the best, you've got to play the best," Confroy said. "That's the bar for national competition. We'll see what we need to improve on come March, because that's the goal that we always look at."
Despite the significant personnel losses, Maryland was picked to finish second in the Big Ten's preseason poll. The Terps are ranked 13th (
USA Today Coaches) and 15th (Associated Press) in the national preseason polls.
"That speaks volumes of the standard that we've set here at Maryland," Frese said. "It certainly shows the respect that the Big Ten has for us. We have to be patient, especially with such a difficult nonconference schedule, as we build toward the [NCAA] Tournament."
Issue 239: November 2017