By: Cody Wilcox
Head coach Brenda Frese walked into the media room Nov. 29 and sat down in front of an array of about 30 media members. Taylor Mikesell seated to Frese’s right, while Kaila Charles sat to her left with a big smile on her face.
Charles had plenty of reason to be happy. After Maryland’s 20-point lead was carved down to one with about nine minutes to play against Georgia Tech earlier that night, Charles took over. The junior guard went on a personal 11-0 run and willed her team past a tough Yellow Jackets team.
Nine days later, she would go on to drop a season-high 24 points against James Madison.
The Terps have seen early success nine games into the season. But for Maryland to continue their success, Charles will have to maintain her aggressiveness for the remainder of the Terps’ season.
“She’s so much different for us with the ability to take people off the bounce,” Frese said on Nov. 7. “So with the threats of the three point shooters that we have—just with her speed and her athleticism—she completes our team to be extremely aggressive.”
Averaging 77.9 points per game, Maryland’s offense is well-balanced. With a variety of shooters, such as Blair Watson, Mikesell and Sara Vujacic, along with post players, such as Stephanie Jones, Brianna Fraser and Shakira Austin, Maryland is able to attack their opponent from every angle of the floor.
But during tough stretches, such as giving up 15 straight points to Georgia Tech, which allowed the Yellow Jackets to cut a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter, Charles, mixed with size, athleticism and elusiveness, is the go-to player for the Terps.
“The play call, we continued to run it until they could stop it, and they couldn’t stop it,” Frese said on Nov. 29 following Maryland’s victory over Georgia Tech. “[Charles] was in a zone, obviously.”
Including the Terps’ nine wins this season, Charles has witnessed 67 wins during her tenure in College Park. But in the past two seasons, Maryland has lost a total of 11 games. In four of those 11 losses, Charles has scored nine points or less, and the Terps have not had a better finish than the NCAA Regional Finals during the 2016-2017 season.
Charles was no stranger to the spotlight prior to her time at Maryland, as the 6-foot-1 guard was ranked the No. 25 overall player by ESPN and a 2016 McDonald’s All-American.
During her freshman year, Charles was asked to play a large role and started all 35 of the Terps’ games, averaging 22.8 minutes per game.
She made a large jump during her sophomore campaign by not only contributing an average of 30.4 minutes per game but increasing her scoring average to 17.9 per game.
Charles would end up earning a spot on the All-Big Ten First Team and WBCA All-Region after her performance during the 2017-2018 season.
Jones, a 6-foot-2 forward from Harve de Grace, Maryland, arrived at the University of Maryland with Charles as a freshman and has witnessed her aggressive approach throughout the years.
“Seeing her maintain [her aggressiveness] throughout the past three years has been great,” Jones said on Nov. 7. “We really need [her aggressiveness].”
The Terps have two more games before they enter conference play on Dec. 28 on the road against Penn State. As a conference that sent six teams, including Maryland, to the NCAA Tournament, Big Ten play should be a challenge for the Terps.
As Maryland continues to play from the inside-out, along with times where the Terps go cold from the floor, Charles’ aggression and playmaking ability will be key going forward. Not only can she score for herself, but Charles is also averaging three assists per game and that vision allows her to get the ball to her shooters and post players in the best position possible.
“I think it’s very important that she remains aggressive,” Jones said. “I think that’s a big part of our game and our style.”