By early in the second quarter of its season opener Monday at George Mason, the Maryland women’s basketball team’s new-look roster was already facing its first test.
Star guard Diamond Miller, the most experienced and accomplished of Maryland’s few returning players, hobbled to the sidelines clutching her right knee after scoring 11 of the team’s first 20 points. Miller’s injury turned out to be “nothing too serious,” coach Brenda Frese said postgame, but the Preseason All-Big Ten selection was nonetheless held out from the rest of the game as a precaution.
Even after Miller and fellow holdover Emma Chardon exited with first-half injuries, the Terrapins went on to steamroll George Mason 88-51 by leaning heavily on some of their nine — yes, nine — newcomers.
At least against George Mason, which was picked in a preseason coaches poll to finish 14th out of 15 teams in the Atlantic 10, the pieces to Maryland’s intricate 2022-23 puzzle — five transfers, four freshmen and four returners — managed to come together.
That was promising, but on Friday night in their home opener, the Terps will face a much more difficult task: Finding a way to slow down No. 1 South Carolina, which won the national championship last season. In a new era that allows college athletes to transfer much more freely, cobbling together teams has become the norm. But even for a veteran like Frese — who has won nearly 80% of her games through 20 seasons at Maryland — this season will be particularly challenging.
Last month, Frese said the schedule was “probably the hardest” one the Terps have ever faced. By Christmas, the 17th-ranked Terps will have also faced No. 18 Baylor, No. 9 Notre Dame, No. 6 Connecticut and No. 22 Nebraska.
That means there’s little time for a group of unfamiliar players to ease into the season.
“I expect that there’s going to be highs and lows, given just the competition of the schedule we’re going to face,” Frese said before Monday’s game. “That chemistry could take time. I mean, you have one returning starter compared to some of these other teams. … We’ll just continue to let it evolve.”
Those early injuries in the George Mason game put even more pressure on the newcomers — and they responded.
With Miller in the locker room, senior guard Abby Meyers, a transfer from Princeton University and the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, settled the Terps by scoring eight of her game-high 19 points in the second quarter.
Another transfer, senior guard Lavender Briggs from the University of Florida, scored all nine of her points in the third quarter. As part of a sterling collegiate debut, freshman guard Bri McDaniel chipped in 13 points and 7 rebounds in 19 minutes.
“I was telling my teammates in the fourth quarter — I was on the bench, I was like, ‘I’m impressed with us,’” Meyers said postgame. “Just coming out not knowing in terms of expectations, how we would take the nerves of the first game and all … I think that everyone just really stepped up.”
The group of new players helped stabilize a Maryland roster that was turned upside down following the offseason departures of five of last season’s top six scorers, including Angel Reese, Ashley Owusu and Mimi Collins who each defected through the transfer portal.
In addition to Meyers and Briggs, the incoming transfers include senior Elisa Pinzan from the University of South Florida — the Terps’ starting point guard through two exhibition games and the season opener — as well as Brinae Alexander from Vanderbilt University. Allie Kubek was also brought in from Towson University, but she will miss the season after tearing her ACL in September.
McDaniel has been an early standout amongst Maryland’s top-10 recruiting class, a group that also boasts Ava Sciolla, Gia Cooke and Mila Reynolds.
“Bri’s gonna be special,” Frese said after the George Mason game. “Super versatile. I can’t believe she’s a freshman.
“She looks like a vet and played with a ton of confidence, and we’re going to need her to play consistently that way.”
Shyanne Sellers, the reigning Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year, and Faith Masonius, who is returning from an ACL injury she sustained in January, join Miller and Chardon as returners from a 2021-22 team that reached the program’s 10th Sweet Sixteen under Frese.
To help Maryland’s revamped squad come together quickly, Frese said the Terps were “super intentional” in focusing on chemistry and communication in the offseason.
It started at the beginning of the school year with a team retreat in the Shenandoah Valley and continued with a players-only meeting shortly before the season. Frese also hired a communications specialist, Betsy Butterick.
The Terps’ captains — a group that fittingly includes two returners in Miller and Masonius and two newcomers in Meyers and Alexander — made it a priority in the lead-up to the season to get to know their teammates.
“I think a really important thing, being on a team with so many new players, is learning more about each person, especially how they like to be communicated to,” Meyers said Tuesday.
During sit-downs with teammates, Meyers said the captains learned “who’s the most intense person on the team, where you can say anything to them and that just motivates them. Or who on the team do you have to be a little bit more positive to and give them words of positive encouragement, rather than just yelling or being really intense with them. I thought that was a good bonding moment for us.”
The focus on team building has been so paramount that Sellers set her personal goals for the season not in terms of points or accolades but as being the “best friend on the team” and “making sure we gel together.”
“This team, we hang out more than I think we ever have,” the sophomore guard said ahead of the season opener. “It’s just fun. We hang in each other’s rooms, play games. Just kind of getting to know people on a personal level outside of basketball really translates on the court.”
In perhaps an indication of the uncertainty around how its overhauled roster will perform, Maryland was selected by the Big Ten’s coaches to finish fourth in the conference. Defending conference champion Iowa, as well as Ohio State and Indiana, were projected to finish ahead of the Terps.
Beginning with a visit Friday from a powerhouse South Carolina team, Maryland views its early-season gauntlet as a chance to prove itself.
“I think we’re all excited to play against those top people because, honestly, I think we’re the underdogs, and people underestimate us and what we can do,” Briggs said.
Sapna Bansil is a pediatric occupational therapist turned journalist who is enrolled in the graduate program at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.