Women’s Basketball Preview: Top recruiting class, sister connection make up the Terps’ new “family”

By Max Marcilla

The Maryland Terrapins women’s basketball team has made it a goal to transform their team into a family. It doesn’t hurt that the team actually boasts a pair of biological sisters.

Senior Brionna Jones, an All-Big Ten First Team honoree, has the fun task of welcoming her younger sister Stephanie to the program this season.

“It’s going to be a great experience,” Brionna said. “The chemistry that we’ve built through the years — I think we’ll bring that back to the court and to our play. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

It’s not the first time that the sisters have played on the same team. Stephanie described a similar situation four years ago when they were teammates at Aberdeen High School in Harford CountyMaryland.

“My freshman year of high school I was really nervous about coming in and supporting them [since they were] state champions the year before,” Stephanie said. “Coming here, they have such a high standard here at Maryland, so [Brionna] has helped me just get adjusted to it.”

Stephanie, a 6-foot-2 forward from Havre de Grace, Maryland, is one of six freshmen that will suit up for the Terrapins this season. All six freshmen were 2016 McDonald’s All-American nominees last year. They make up the nation’s top recruiting class.

“We actually have a great relationship with each other,” freshman guard Sarah Myers said. “We all come from such different backgrounds that it’s kind of funny how well we go together…They’re some of my best friends here.”

The Jones family will be well represented in the red, black, and gold this year, but the Terps have built a family atmosphere even for those without a relative on the team.

“I think the family atmosphere is the most important thing,” junior Aja Ellison said. “First of all, when you’re playing basketball and you’re in college, it’s stressful…It gets stressful mentally and physically… When you choose a school that you want to go to, you want to go somewhere where you have a family away from home.”

Part of welcoming a top-tier freshman class means the Terps need to have established leaders. Ellison made sure she took on an important role in the Maryland family.

“I think that as far as all the upperclassmen, everybody leads in their own way,” she said. “You need certain things from certain people, especially the leaders. You have one who’s more stern and one who’s more energetic. And I think that’s where I come into play. I give that positive energy — kind of that motherly, nurturing kind of vibe.”

Last season, the Terps wrapped up the regular season with a stellar 31-4 record, the sixth consecutive season they won at least 30 games, but had an early exit in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Those returning to the program have used the Terps’ season-ending loss to Washington as motivation for this upcoming season.

“We used [the loss] as motivation all offseason,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “That was a past team and this is a new season with new players. We really look onward and upward… I don’t think you ever forget that feeling and that sting and how we didn’t do that job for our seniors and, I think for us, we don’t want to repeat it.”

Led by Brionna Jones, who leads the Big Ten in rebounding, and senior Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, the nation’s top three-point shooter, the Terps have lofty expectations for the upcoming season.

“Obviously we know what we can get from them, both on and off-the-court, with their scoring and how they’ve been able to lead the team,” Frese said. “What I’ve been most impressed with from them has been the leadership piece of blending these six new freshmen and our new players into the elements… We are definitely playing for these two seniors this season.”

The Terps tip-off their season on Wednesday, November 2 with an exhibition game against Bluefield State in preparation for the season opener against UMass Lowell on November 13.