- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2006

The defending national champion Maryland Terrapins have new uniforms this season that feature the same fancy lettering on the jerseys as the men’s team and a broader red stripe on the shorts.

Unseen is the bull’s-eye on the back.

The Terrapins no longer are underdogs in a conference long dominated by Duke and North Carolina. They’re the champs, they have all five starters back, and everyone wants a piece of ‘em.

“It’s definitely going to be harder to defend our national championship than it was to win it,” said forward Marissa Coleman, the ACC rookie of the year. “We have that target on our back, and we know every team is going to give us their best game.”

Coleman should know. When Maryland faced Baylor in the NCAA tournament last March, the Terrapins relished the opportunity to oust the 2005 champions.

“That gave us extra motivation to beat them,” Coleman said. “This year, that’s what teams are going to be doing against us.”

To that, the Terps collectively say: Bring it on.

“We worked so hard to get to this level, and we want to maintain it,” forward Laura Harper said. “Last year, we kind of snuck up on people. They didn’t expect us to be among the elite. Now we are. That’s exciting, and we’re ready for the challenge of staying at the top.”

Beating the Terrapins will require a lot more than the desire to do so. Besides maintaining the same starting lineup from a team that went 34-4, the Maryland bench got even deeper. The top three reserves are back, along with a pair of transfers who should contribute heavily.

“We have a lot of confidence. We know we’re good, people know we’re good,” said guard Christie Marrone, who sat out last year after coming from Virginia Tech.

The Terps are deep, talented and extremely confident. What could possibly go wrong?

“If we don’t get better,” point guard Kristi Toliver said, “we’re going to get beat.”

Perhaps. But here’s some bad news for those teams with Maryland on the schedule: The Terrapins have plenty of room for improvement. Inexperience was arguably their only weakness a year ago, when starters Toliver, Coleman, Harper and Crystal Langhorne began the season with only two years of college ball among them.

Now, they’re ready to build on what they started.

“I think we all know that we can do it again,” said guard Shay Doron, the only senior starter in the lineup. “It’s going to be easier to go out there and play. We don’t need to learn about each other all over again. We can pick up where we left off, which is a great advantage that we have over a lot of teams.”

Said Harper: “We don’t have to work on the basics. We’re trying to become ferocious defensively and rebounding.”

As far as being the hunted instead of the hunter, coach Brenda Frese would prefer that to the alternative.

“You can be intimidated by it or welcome it. I remember four years ago going 10-18 and what that was like. I’ll take the bull’s-eye any day, to show you’ve arrived,” she said. “You have to come prepared every game, because you’re going to get their best shot.”

Frese wants the Terps to display the pride of a champion, but with the hunger they carried in an underdog role.

“We don’t feel like we’re defending a title this season. We’ve already won it,” she said. “We feel like this is a new season.”

So does the competition, and it’s ready to take Maryland down a notch or two.

“We have a team that has nothing to lose,” Duke guard Lindsey Harding said. “They have a team that has to defend everything they won last year.”

The Terrapins will do so with new uniforms and a fresh attitude.

“It’s a new year. It’s not about the national championship. It’s nice that we just got these rings and we’re wearing them, but aside from that, this is a new season,” Harper said. “Everyone’s coming after us, so we’re going to have to work 10 times harder than in the past. That’s exciting for us. We have to pick up the level of our game, and we might not have done that without that target on our back.”

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