- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 8, 2009

As the calendar flipped to January, Maryland center Lynetta Kizer grew more anxious to begin conference play. So this week, the freshman sought the scoop from the most trusted source she knows - senior Kristi Toliver.

“As it’s been getting closer, it’s been getting more exciting,” Kizer said. “[Tuesday] we were in study hall, and I’m like, ‘KT, please tell me about ACC play.’ She gave me the whole spiel and everything. Every game is going to be competitive, and we’re going to have to give our all like it’s our last.”

That was the pre-eminent feeling floating around Comcast Center this week as the 14th-ranked Terrapins (12-2) prepared for Thursday’s conference opener against Wake Forest (12-1).

Even though the Terps are riding a five-game winning streak, they acknowledge that the true barometer of their progress this season will come over the next few months. With five ranked teams, including two (North Carolina and Duke) in the top five, the ACC is strong at the top as usual.

The difference this season, however, is the depth within the conference. Ten of the 12 ACC teams have double-digit win totals, and six have two losses or fewer.

“We talk a lot about every game matters,” coach Brenda Frese said. “You’ve got to take care of business at home and show a level of toughness on the road. On any given night, I really believe anyone can beat anyone else in this league. You really can’t take a night off.”

Maryland is confident its nonconference schedule provided a sufficient warmup for the ACC. It split its games against Top 25 teams (Purdue, which has since dropped out of the rankings, and Pittsburgh), toppled then unbeaten Mississippi State and played seven straight road games.

But many times, the Terps needed a strong second half to overcome a sluggish start.

“We’re a work in progress, and I think it’s going to be that way all the way up until tournament time,” Frese said. “We continue to challenge this team and find different strengths that we have, but we’re definitely a work in progress.”

Nonetheless, Frese is pleased with the way the young Terps have jelled in recent weeks in preparation for league play. Outside of Toliver and Marissa Coleman, none of Maryland’s regulars have more than a season’s worth of ACC experience.

That’s a new dynamic for Maryland, which until this year boasted four starters from its 2006 national championship roster, but not one Frese thinks will inhibit the Terps’ fortunes.

“It’s much different than our last two to three years in terms of our experience and our veterans, but it’s exciting from a coaching end to put different players in different positions to allow them to be successful,” Frese said.

Toliver is confident the Terps are mentally ready for the upcoming grind. The point guard said the only way for her teammates to get used to the heightened competition is to play in it.

“They’ve asked, and you can’t really explain. They just kind of have to experience it for themselves,” she said. “[The ACC is] one of the best conferences in the country, and the players are all athletic and physical and really talented. The best of the best go to the ACC. They’ll figure it out pretty soon.”

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