- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 19, 2006

Marissa Coleman brought an abundance of talent and confidence to the Maryland women’s basketball team this season.

It’s difficult to tell which trait has helped the Terrapins more.

Coleman, the ACC rookie of the year, will make her NCAA tournament debut today when second-seeded Maryland meets 15th-seeded Sacred Heart in a first round Albuquerque bracket game in University Park, Pa.

It’s a moment Coleman has anticipated for some time, especially after seeing the collection of young talent Maryland coach Brenda Frese has assembled. In the Terps’ media guide, Coleman’s reply to a question of who will be in the Final Four was “Not sure about all four, but Maryland will be one.”

Four months after the start of the season, Coleman isn’t backing down from her preseason prognostications.

“I knew coming in here that this team could go to the Final Four my whole four years in college,” Coleman said. “I know it might sound crazy, but I’m just confident in this team and our coaching staff and what we can do.”

That’s heady stuff from a newcomer. But with the Terps (28-4) just four games away from the national semifinals, it is anything but a far-fetched possibility.

Coleman’s play has helped the Terps evolve from a No. 7 seed a year ago to a fixture in the top 10 for much of this season. She is averaging 14.6 points and 7.7 rebounds, production that only enhances the value of the healthy swagger she has brought to Maryland.

“It’s Marissa’s voice I’ve heard from day one talking about Boston and the big picture,” Frese said. “That’s a pretty confident statement to be making as a freshman. That kind of talk is really contagious, that mentality and [willingness] just not to be afraid of anyone.”

Coleman knew she would have an influence on how far the Terps would go this season, but she is a bit surprised at just how large her role has become. On the first day of practice, Frese asked the 6-foot-1 Coleman to play point guard.

Coleman thought her coach was joking. Frese wasn’t.

As it turned out, none of the Terps’ opponents were laughing once Coleman became more comfortable at the position. Her ability to run the point made it easier to absorb freshman Kristi Toliver’s injuries in December and gave Frese an option to spell junior Shay Doron.

Coleman, though, can do far more than run an offense. She has made more than half of her 3-point attempts and can shoot from anywhere, and she can defend bigger players as well. That has allowed Frese to deploy what amounts to a four-guard set and create nightmarish matchups for opponents.

“She’s definitely the X-factor on our team,” sophomore center Crystal Langhorne said. “She brings so much.”

And so much more than she did when she arrived in College Park. Coleman admitted she didn’t always play hard at the defensive end in high school, often (correctly) assuming she could take over on offense and more than make up for any lapses.

It didn’t take long for her to realize that attitude wouldn’t work at the college level, and she quickly worked to improve her defense. The result: 47 blocked shots (a Maryland freshman record) and 41 steals (second on the team) to complement her impressive offensive performance.

“The thing about Marissa is her learning ability and her wanting to learn and get better,” Doron said. “She’s just made extreme strides. If you take game film from the first few games and the see her now, it’s unbelievable. She was only scoring in the beginning and now she’s doing everything for us.”

That’s the way it figures to remain for the next three seasons. And during each of them, Coleman will probably talk about Maryland and the Final Four in the same sentence.

“That’s what you have to have,” Coleman said. “You don’t want to come in saying ‘Well, I don’t know if we can get to the Final Four.’ You have to have confidence that you can do it.”

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