- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 22, 2009

Every time Kristi Toliver steps onto the Comcast Center court, she’s faced with the eternal reminder of her career accomplishments - her jersey hanging from the rafters.

Her name is forever etched in the Maryland record books. She is the program’s all-time leader in assists and 3-pointers, holds the ACC’s single-season assists record (275) and is the only Terrapins player to win the Nancy Lieberman Award, given annually to the nation’s top point guard.

But next to her No. 20 jersey hang items that, if you ask Toliver, are just as important - the jerseys of her fellow starters from the 2006 national championship team and the biggest one of all, the title banner itself.

“I’m proud of the product that I’ve been able to give to the university,” Toliver said. “But there’s still unfinished business. We still have potentially six more games left. I’m happy with the things that have happened so far, with having a national championship, with having an ACC championship, but I’m not satisfied in the fact that I want another national championship now.”

Starting with a bang

Brenda Frese got an early taste of what was to come while scouting a high school championship game in 2005. Her two star recruits, Toliver and Marissa Coleman, came up to her with a startling prediction.

“They were telling me, ‘Coach B, next year we’re going to be playing in the Final Four and winning our own championship,’ ” Frese recalled. “I remember just thinking it was a pretty bold statement for seniors in high school to make. I guess the joke was on me in the sense of how much confidence these two had in themselves and their ability to be able to help this team.”

Never was that more evident than in the closing 15.4 seconds of regulation of the 2006 national championship game. The 5-foot-7 freshman point guard dribbled around two screens and buried a 3-pointer over 6-7 Duke center Alison Bales, forcing overtime in a game the Terps ultimately won.

In hitting what is simply known as “The Shot” in Maryland women’s basketball circles, Toliver became an instant legend. She put a signature on the program’s first national championship and vaulted Frese’s program into national recognition.

“That was definitely a huge highlight and is what put this team and myself on the map,” Toliver said. “My favorite thing about it is the support that we’ve gotten ever since. Our fans are amazing. Obviously, there were loyal ones before we were big-time, but I think the following that this program has now is tremendous and it will only continue to grow.”

‘A complete 180’

Maryland had high expectations entering the 2006-07 season. The Terps had fed off the underdog mentality the year before, but now as the preseason No. 1, the target was on them.

It was a new scenario, a new set of pressures. And as the year wore on, the youthful, energetic mentality morphed into a more workmanlike one. The Terps were swept by rivals Duke and North Carolina, and the grind of the season started to wear on them.

For Toliver, it was especially hard to endure. She thrives on her passion for playing, her passion for winning - and her enjoyment of the game was slipping away.

That bottomed out in the NCAA tournament, when Mississippi upset the Terps in the second round. And for the first time in her Maryland career, Toliver didn’t start.

“I can’t say that my passion for the game was gone, but I just think that we didn’t have fun playing basketball, and that was just a complete 180 compared to the last year, when everything was so much fun for us,” she said. “Sometimes we took things too seriously throughout the season, and that wasn’t fun. That’s where the game wasn’t as fun, because as a team, we weren’t having fun out there playing and practicing every day. When it’s not fun, that’s not a good thing at all.”

Lasting legacy

Toliver said she “found that funness again” with a trip to the Point Guard College basketball camp at James Madison in Harrisonburg, Va., before her junior season - much to the dismay of the rest of the ACC. She emerged from the tumult of her sophomore year with a first-team All-ACC campaign last year and grabbed conference player of the year honors this season.

The points, assists and wins have racked up at a steady pace, and with every step-back jumper or no-look pass, the “oohs” and “ahhs” echo throughout Comcast Center. But there is one final chapter Toliver wants to add to her storied career - cutting down the nets at the Final Four in St. Louis.

“I just enjoy playing for this team, for this program and for our fans,” she said. “And hopefully I was entertaining enough for all of them.”

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