Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Terps Women-National Hoops Champion

I'm sure glad that when I fell off the George Mason men's basketball bandwagon, I was able to latch on to the one for Maryland women's hoops.

Congratulations to the national champion Maryland Terrapins women's basketball team. Winning the school's first title in the sport would have been sweet enough by itself, but to defeat North Carolina and Duke in the Final Four was the proverbial icing on the cake.

I wish the Terps' men's teams over the last couple of seasons had the toughness and heart that the ladies showed on their march to the championsip. Their semi-final victory over the Tar Heels was as intense and physical a basketball game as you could want to see, and the championship match was close behind.

Major kudos goes to head coach Brenda Freese, who has rebuilt the Maryland program in only four years, duplicating and then exceeding her turnaround success at Ball State and Minnesota, where she was named national Coach of the Year in 2001-02. Some of Freese's contemporaries in the coaching profession don't much care for her hard-charging ways, whining about her going over the top at times in recruiting. The same type of complaints are heard about Florida's men's coach Billy Donovan, who took home the championship trophy Monday night. Coincidence--I think not.

I don't follow women's college hoops closely and as a result don't write much about it. Even a casual glance at the Maryland starting lineup Tuesday night though, featuring one junior, two sophomores, and two freshmen (why aren't they called "freshwomen" anyway?) makes one wonder if Coach Freese has a dynasty in the making.

The Terps will certainly be challenged in the near future by both North Carolina and Duke. Both schools are perennial contenders for the ACC title and Final Four berths. This season was the first time three schools from the same conference have reached the Final Four at the same time, and the ACC could certainly duplicate that soon.

Maryland should begin next season as #1, and the new challenge for Freese will be to make sure her players don't sit back and read their press clippings instead of improving their games. With the Tar Heels and Blue Devils around, they don't have much room for error.

I happened to notice that the WNBA draft was held Wednesday in Boston, the site of the Final Four. They don't give the girls much time to cool off, do they?

The Terps' title also reminded me about how perceptions of a school's athletic program can get out of whack. This is the third national championship Maryland has won this scholastic year. This fall they won titles in field hockey and men's soccer. Yet some of the natives are restless because the football team has posted consecutive 5-6 records and the men's basketball team has missed the NCAA's the last two seasons.

Many alumni, boosters, or just casual fans just look at the success of the two marquee teams to evaluate how their school's athletic program is faring. By that evaulation, Maryland is struggling. Any school with three national championships in a season, however (and perhaps another to come in men's lacrosse) is doing a lot of things right, even if a lot of fans don't notice.


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