Maryland women’s basketball opens at No. 4 in preseason AP Top 25 poll

Guard Kaila Charles runs down the floor in Maryland women's basketball's 115-52 exhibition win over Lincoln University on Oct. 29, 2019. (Cam Andrews/The Diamondback)

The Maryland women’s basketball team finished the 2018-2019 season unsatisfied, getting bounced in the second round of the NCAA tournament at home against an underdog UCLA squad.

The team returns all five starters from last year’s 29-5 team and recruited ESPN’s No. 3-ranked freshman class, putting together a roster that — in conjunction with coach Brenda Frese’s leadership — earned the No. 4 ranking in the AP preseason women’s college basketball poll released Wednesday.

This is the highest Maryland has been ranked in AP’s preseason poll since 2008, when it entered the season at No. 3. The Terps were ranked ninth last preseason and never reached a higher ranking than fourth, a result of winning their first 12 games.

Four other Big Ten teams — Michigan State (17), Minnesota (23), Indiana (24) and Michigan (25) — also made the list. Maryland was ranked preseason No. 1 in the Big Ten by both the coaches and media.

[Read more: 3 takeaways from Maryland women’s basketball’s 115-52 preseason win vs. Lincoln University]

“We have tremendous length, both on the perimeter, point guard position, wings, inside. You’re going to see that size. The talent level has really increased,” Frese said at media day. “We have depth at every single position, athleticism that we haven’t had in a few years, and a big thing I’ll say about this team is they’re a team full of competitors.”

The 2019-2020 Terps are led by two-time All-Big Ten selection and preseason Cheryl Miller Award watch list member Kaila Charles. The senior guard averaged 17 points and 6.7 rebounds per game last season and looks to be the clear leader, but she’ll have help across the board with a mix of experienced and young, talented players.

Frese highlighted forward Shakira Austin as the team’s most-improved player this offseason, citing her increased strength from dedication in the weight room and refined offensive skills. An All-Big Ten Defensive Team selection last season, Austin’s 89 blocks were the most in a season in Terps history, and she has her eyes set on topping that number in year two.

[Read more: Three takeaways from Maryland women’s basketball’s 109-67 exhibition win over Cal U]

Sophomore guard Taylor Mikesell set a record of her own with 95 3-pointers made, the most of any player in Maryland history. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year was named to the preseason Ann Meyers Drysdale award watch list, honoring the nation’s top shooting guards.

While the freshman class is without guard Zoe Young, who will miss the season after undergoing knee surgery to repair her ACL on Oct. 28, Frese says guards Ashley Owusu and Diamond Miller and forward Faith Masonius are ready to contribute right away.

Last season, the Terps won the Big Ten regular-season title and advanced to the Big Ten tournament championship game for the fifth straight year before losing to Iowa. As a No. 3-seed in March Madness, they fell to No. 6-seed UCLA, 85-80.

“We got out of the NCAA tournament a little earlier than we wanted, and we didn’t get to win our Big Ten championship, so of course we have that hunger inside of us to get back there and do better,” Charles said. “With the addition of our new players we should be able to be that successful or even better.”

Maryland and Louisville are the lone schools with men’s and women’s teams ranked in the AP poll’s Top 10 to begin the year. Maryland’s regular season will begin on Tuesday, Nov. 5, in a home game against Wagner at 11 a.m.

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