Over the past few years, the Maryland women’s basketball team leaned on center Brionna Jones and guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough entering the postseason.
This year, the No. 17 Terps enter with a very different cast. Jones and Walker-Kimbrough are gone, as is guard Destiny Slocum, last year’s National Freshman of the Year. The trio comprised Maryland’s top three scorers last season.
Despite the turnover and uncertainty surrounding the new-look squad, the Terps are back in a familiar position as a high seed in the conference tournament, in part thanks to the emergence of several new players stepping into the leadership void left by graduations and transfers.
The No. 2-seed Terps will hope that continues when they take on Indiana on Friday night in Indianapolis.
“You don’t have [experience] in number of years, but it’s about players that want to win and love to compete,” coach Brenda Frese said. “Our locker room is full of winners that have competed at the highest level.”
Maryland is only seeded behind Ohio State, a team the Terps defeated on Jan. 22. The Terps will depend a lot on guard Kristen Confroy’s experience as she heads to her fourth Big Ten tournament.
Maryland (23-6, 12-4 Big Ten) has just two players who have been with the program for four seasons, and Confroy is the only one who has played in all four.
Confroy’s experience makes her a natural leader.
“[It’s] her leadership and her voice, both on and off the court, and she’s done that all season long for us,” Frese said. “When you’re in the hotel room with the teammate, when you’re on the practice court, with your communication and your leadership, all those little things that go on, on and off the court.”
Senior Ieshia Small transferred from Baylor and is preparing for her second Big Ten tournament as a Terp. The team also views the Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year as a leader.
“Even if it’s the first game or the third game, [we’re] just leaving everything out on the court,” Small said. “You never want to look back and say ‘I wish I would have done this,’ and [we’re] just not taking the game for granted.”
Frese also labeled sophomore guard Kaila Charles, the team’s leading scorer, as one of the units’ main voices before the season, and she’s maintained that role well, Small said.
Playing around Charles has elevated everybody’s game ahead of the tournament, Small added.
Charles said it’s a collective effort, beyond just her and the seniors, to contribute input and opinions while having a willingness to listen. Frese said her teammates’ competitiveness means they often don’t require much guiding.
“My team expects for me to have that voice of encouragement and positivity,” Charles said. “We have two great leaders with our seniors and, for them to help me with that leadership role, it’s helped me grow throughout this whole season.”
Small reiterated the importance of her teammates taking advantage of their postseason opportunities. In a few months, almost all the underclassmen will be upperclassmen, and they should enjoy the moment while they can, she said.
“We can get our break later on,” Small said. “After we win a championship.”