Cloud and Taylor Emerging as Leaders for MD

Natasha Cloud and Dara Taylor have already fostered a strong bond early in the season and are growing as leaders.

Ever since the graduation of all-time Terp legends Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver in 2009, the Maryland women’s basketball team has struggled to find a comparable pair of players that made such depth, leadership, and chemistry look easy.

The one-two punch of Coleman’s polished ball-handling skills, dominant inside presence, and sheer athleticism combined with Toliver’s precision from 3-point range and court vision remains unmatched.

Their formidable combination was further bolstered by a seemingly intrinsic connection between the two, as well as remarkably complementary leadership styles, with Coleman acting as the outwardly passionate, vocal leader and Toliver as the stoic, calming presence.

However, the 2010-2011 team, heralded as one of the deepest teams head coach Brenda Frese has ever coached, also boasts a potentially powerful backcourt duo with the point guard rotation of freshman Natasha Cloud and sophomore Dara Taylor.

Although Cloud and Taylor are both point guards and would therefore not be on the court at the same time like Coleman and Toliver, Cloud and Taylor, used in substitution for each other, are already contributing harmonious leadership styles and an ability to bring out the best in each other, similar to that of Coleman and Toliver.

Like Coleman and Toliver, Cloud and Taylor fill the contrasting roles of leading by direct guidance and by example, respectively.

“Natasha is more outgoing, charismatic, and communicative,” said Frese. “Dara is more [about] work ethic and leading by example. But both are extremely effective.”

“I have more of a childlike energy,” said Cloud of her style of leadership. “I’ll be in your face, cheering when you do something good, or I’m there to pick you up when you fall down.”

“I do more of a behind-the-scenes type of thing,” said Taylor. “If somebody messes up, I’ll pull them to the side and have a one-on-one conversation.”

Also reminiscent of Coleman and Toliver, Cloud and Taylor’s leadership skills are further strengthened by the nature of the relationship they share with each other.

Anyone that has watched the two so far this season will likely have heard Cloud’s voice ring out above all others, cheering as Taylor forces a turnover or completes a no-look pass, or seen Taylor pull Cloud aside and talk strategy with her.

“They have a great bond. Dara has really taken Natasha under her wing as an upperclassman, but I think Natasha infuses confidence in Dara,” said Frese. “So it’s kind of a cyclical effect that they have on one another.”

“I look up to Dara and I kind of stick under her wing so that I can follow in her footsteps to get on the right path,” said Cloud. “And I know that if I mess up she’s going to be there to pick me up.”

“[Our relationship] helps with my leadership, too,” said Taylor. “I know that there’s somebody underneath me, that’s younger than me, that I always have to be a role model for, so [Natasha] helps me stay focused.”

Although Cloud and Taylor have not yet reached legendary status like their Class of 2009 counterparts, Frese believes the two of them have bright futures. Both players come from strong foundations and are continually improving, according to Frese.

Cloud comes to Maryland having been named to the 2010 Pennsylvania AAAA First Team All-State and having averaged 5.2 assists and 4.0 steals as a senior at Cardinal O’Hara High School.

Taylor came to Maryland as a McDonald’s All-American and the 2009 Gatorade State Player of the Year for Delaware. During her freshman year at Maryland she became Maryland’s all-time freshman class assist leader with 171 on the season.

“Dara [has] worked on everything that she felt like we needed her to improve on [from last season],” Frese said of Taylor’s offseason commitment. “I think she’s doing a much better job in her decision-making, in her shot selection.”

“[And] Natasha is just a natural floor leader. She just brings all those intangible qualities that you need from that point guard position from a leadership end,” said Frese. “And she’s just scratched the surface. I don’t think she even realizes how good she can be.”

For a Maryland program looking to establish itself as a perennial NCAA championship contender, the addition of a promising, dynamic twosome similar to such renowned players as Coleman and Toliver will surely have many Maryland fans brimming with excitement.

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