Maryland proved again this season that it is clearly one of the nation's elite women's basketball programs.
The goal next year is to be the best.
Another strong season for Maryland and coach Brenda Frese ended Tuesday night with an 80-49 loss to Notre Dame in the round of eight. The Terrapins hung with the top-seeded Irish for the opening eight minutes, but in the end the Irish were too talented and had far more experience.
The defeat did little to mar an exceptional season for a team with only one senior starter and a half-dozen freshmen and sophomores, including Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year Alyssa Thomas.
"I told the team in the locker that I appreciate the journey and the ride that we got to spend this season," Frese said late Tuesday. "I couldn't have asked for a better team in terms of how committed everyone was this season."
Maryland's three seniors won't soon forget their final college game - no matter how hard they try. Fortunately, Kim Rodgers, Lynetta Kizer and Anjale Barrett will have plenty of other memories to cherish when they look back on their time in College Park.
And, perhaps in the near future, the trio will watch their former teammates make another run at the title.
"We had a phenomenal season," Rodgers said. "We had a lot of good wins this year, a lot of comeback wins. We have been to two Elite Eights, two ACC championships, and we are champions in our own right. It's not fun sitting here and say we didn't get to the Final Four, but we accomplished a lot. We are leaving a lot of good things for the underclassmen to move forward with next year."
Maryland (31-5) finished the regular season ranked fifth in the nation. The Terrapins won the Atlantic Coast Conference title, earned a second seed in the NCAA tournament and justified that position by winning three games - including rousing comeback victories over Louisville and defending champion Texas A&M.
Next year could be special for Maryland. Barrett was the only senior starter in a lineup that included three sophomores. Thomas, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, emerged as a force on both ends of the court, sophomore Laurin Mincy played exceptionally well in her first full season back from knee surgery and 6-3 junior Tianna Hawkins helped make Maryland one of the best rebounding teams in the nation.
The experience that was lacking this season shouldn't be a factor in 2012-2013.
After watching the Terrapins rally from 18 points down to beat his Texas A&M team, Aggies coach Gary Blair said of Maryland: "They're going to be in the Final Four either this year, or next year or the following year. They're going to be back. Cause when you look out there, you get intimidated just watching them warm up before the ballgame."
The Terrapins have been to the NCAA tournament eight times in Frese's 10 years at the school, five times as a No. 2 seed. This journey was highlighted by that 81-74 win over Texas A&M, but the furious comeback played a part in the Terrapins' inability to rally against the Irish.
"I felt like our energy and effort was spent in the game before," Frese conceded.
Yet the Terrapins never quit.
"We didn't stop fighting to the end," Barrett said. "Our motto is fight to finish. It didn't matter if we were down 30, 40, or 50 we were going to go down fighting. And that's what we did."