Terps must replace star-studded class

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Lynetta Kizer cruised through her senior season at Potomac High School. The Woodbridge, Va., native averaged 21.2 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks - and the accolades rolled in. She was a McDonald’s, Parade and WBCA All-American and was rated the nation’s top center recruit by HoopGurlz.com.

Despite that success, Kizer didn’t feel ready for the next level. The 6-foot-4 standout thought she was carrying too much weight to survive in the ever-improving ACC. So before she even arrived in College Park, Kizer prepared for her career with Terrapins - much to the delight of coach Brenda Frese.

“She actually sent me an e-mail saying that she needed to get herself in shape,” Frese recalled. “The ownership was all on her. She changed her diet, did extra cardio and recognized the fact that she was not in the shape that she was going to need to be to be able to make [an] impact, as well as play the kind of minutes that we need her to play.”

The onus on Kizer to be ready to contribute from Day 1 has as much to do with who she is replacing as her talent. She has the unenviable task of helping fill the void left by two of the best players in school history. Crystal Langhorne, the program’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder, and Laura Harper, the 2006 Final Four most outstanding player and Maryland’s all-time blocks leader, were mainstays in the paint for the past four seasons.

Maryland’s top two options off the bench last year, guard Ashleigh Newman and forward Jade Perry, also graduated. Those four seniors combined for 38.9 points and 24.2 rebounds a game.

Frese said it would be nearly impossible to replace that production, so she has been working on other areas in practice. The Terps certainly will have a different look in the halfcourt than their post-heavy teams of recent years.

“I don’t know if you make up for it, but you’ve got to find different ways,” Frese said. “We lost a phenomenal amount in scoring and rebounding, so we’re going to have to find different ways - whether it be defensively, taking better care of the ball or shooting the ball better from the perimeter.”

Kizer’s preparation has paid dividends already. She made the national team that won gold at the FIBA Americas Under-18 Championship in July. At last month’s ACC media day, she was named preseason rookie of the year.

Kizer isn’t fretting over the expectations, however.

“It’s both an honor and a challenge,” she said. “Coming out of high school, being selected to the national team, people voting for me and acknowledging me as a basketball player is definitely an honor. And it’s a challenge because one of my goals, personally, is to be ACC rookie of the year.”

It’s no secret that established stars Kristi Toliver and Marissa Coleman are Maryland’s top two options. But to play deep into March, the Terps will have to find the balance that makes them so hard to defend.

Since their return to national prominence, the forte of Terps teams has been an overpowering offense. Frese relishes the opportunity to throw waves of scorers at their opponents, spreading out defenses and creating favorable matchups.

One of those expected to make a big jump is sophomore guard Marah Strickland. She came to College Park after being named the 2007 Maryland high school player of the year and quickly found a spot in the starting lineup. She became the team’s best perimeter defender and a reliable spot-up shooter. As the Terps evolve into a perimeter-oriented team this season, Strickland’s role will increase.

After making 36 starts last year, she is used to playing lots of minutes.

“I definitely feel like it gives me a head start,” she said. “I know what the coaches are going to expect from me this year, so I’m excited to go out there and show the same intensity and give a little more this year.”

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