Terps Hone Mental Toughness for Tourney

Terps harness their toughness, composure, and confidence in preparation for the NCAA Tournament.

Recognized as having the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation while also identified as one of just seven teams in the country to be without a single senior, the Maryland Terrapins have frequently reaped the benefits of youthful enthusiasm and energy, but have also suffered occasionally from youthful inexperience.

Therefore, when it became clear at the conclusion of the regular season that the Terps (23-7, 9-5 ACC) would likely be participating in the NCAA Tournament - and was later confirmed on Selection Monday that the Terps had earned a No. 4 seed - Maryland head coach Brenda Frese has particularly emphasized mentally preparing her young team.

“[They have] that youthful bliss,” said Frese. “Sometimes that's good, because there's no pressure, they don't understand it. But then other times you want them to understand the sense of urgency of what's taking place.”

In an effort to deepen this understanding of the competition ahead, Frese has highlighted mental toughness in recent practices, acknowledging the likelihood of the Terps competing with more experienced opponents, as the Terps have just three players with NCAA tournament experience.

However, seasoned composure also appears attainable for the young Terps, as a result of the wisdom they gain from their unwavering dedication and concurring coachability.

“This team, I have thought all season long, are pleasers,” said Frese. “And they want do things to perfection. They're really coachable and they want to please us as a coaching staff, and they're really motivated and driven.”

Frese continues to focus on mental toughness in practice by enforcing far more demanding penalties for such lapses in concentration as missed layups or errant passes, unmistakably placing a premium on sound decision-making.

Recent practices have also included fine-tuning the team's adaptability, using drills focused on mastering transition defense after a turnover as well as being able to modify their offense when a play breaks down.

“Within any game, you're going to have moments of chaos, and things that don't flow the way you exactly want it to work,” said Frese. “You can't just play the structure, you have to play within the game and be able to play how the game is going to let you. So those are areas that we've been working in practice, just to be able to read how we're being played.”

In addition to drills, the Terps are also able to practice mental toughness in highly competitive scrimmages against their scout team, which includes freshmen Sequoia Austin and Whitney Bays, and sophomore Essence Townsend.

In preparation for the tournament, the scout team has also noticeably heightened their intensity, exercising uncompromising defensive pressure and presenting a strong 3-point scoring threat.

Unafraid to celebrate after an especially pivotal play either, the scout team also adds even greater dimension to practice by representing realistic emotional battles between opponents as well.

“I think the scout team continues to make us better,” said Frese. “And when they raise their level of play, it raises our level of play as a team. And when [they are] making shots or playing with emotion, it brings up the level of intensity in practice.”

Looking ahead to the tournament, the Terps can likely draw strength from dominating regular season wins over North Carolina and Duke, in which the Terps experienced the full swaying power of their elevated confidence level, and now are just working to harness it.

“We're a different team when we play with confidence,” said Frese. “And I think this team is really looking forward to this moment.”

The Terps will take on 13th-seeded St. Francis in the first round of the tournament on Sunday, March 20 at 12:20 p.m.


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