COLLEGE PARK — Whenever the Maryland women's basketball team practiced last winter, a cluster of training tables would be hauled to the edges of the court, sometimes as many as three or four at a time.
To some, it might have looked as though coach Brenda Frese was sharing the floor with a massage therapist.
That surely would have been preferable to reality. It was trainer Megan Rogers' idea to move the Terps' injured players from the training room to the floor, to show that they were still missed.
But that also meant showing them what they were missing.
Without four players, three starters or much luck, the Terps advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament last season. They won 26 games. They finished second in the Atlantic Coast Conference. When eventual national champion Connecticut ended their season, the active roster consisted of seven healthy scholarship players and a walk-on from the volleyball team.
“All the people that are coming back off their injuries, they've been able to sit back and watch us all season,” senior forward Alyssa Thomas, a two-time ACC Player of the Year, said at the team's media day Wednesday. “And now they're working as well, and they're ready to get back after it.”
It is fair to say that the Terps' injury misery of last season is unlikely to be repeated, if only because it takes a special kind of misfortune for a team to suffer three season-ending ACL injuries in six weeks.
The first to need a courtside table in 2012 was Brene Moseley. Running down the court during an Oct. 21 scrimmage, the sophomore's left knee buckled. Her ACL was torn. The Terps' presumptive starting point guard was out before she'd gotten in.
Recalled junior shooting guard Laurin Mincy: “Then we go into practice, scrimmages, and … ” — she snapped her fingers for emphasis — “Essence [Townsend].”
In a November exhibition game, the reserve center tore her ACL. She was also gone. The Terps were down to nine players.
“I'm talking to [Townsend] like, ‘You're going to be fine. You're going to be fine,'” Mincy said Wednesday.
She snapped again, as if to show how suddenly it all changed.
“Two weeks later, it was me.”
In a Nov. 28 win over Nebraska, Mincy's right knee went a way it wasn't supposed to. Her season was done. So, too, it seemed, were any hopes for a successful year for the Terps.
But a season predicted to go one way went the other. Without their starting backcourt of Moseley and Mincy, the Terps won 10 of their next 12 games, two of them against Top25 league rivals.
For depth reasons, they added to their roster Caitlin Adams, a Maryland volleyball player who had last played competitive basketball in high school. She would be used only in case of a blowout, or if the team's injury bug had, in fact, become contagious. But what were the chances of that?
The answer came in late January, when starting freshman forward Tierney Pfirman dislocated her left kneecap in practice. She missed nearly a month, and when she returned, she lasted just three games before being sidelined with mononucleosis. Pfirman didn't play a game after Feb. 28.
“It was a very emotional year,” senior center Alicia DeVaughn said.
The scars haven't faded completely. Though the Terps are again considered a preseason Top 10 team and Townsend and Moseley are back running, competing and smiling, Mincy is not yet fully healthy. Neither is freshman center Brionna Jones (Aberdeen), her own start date pushed back by a January knee injury. They should rejoin the team soon enough, Frese said.
In a way, they never really left. When the Terps closed practice last season, they would bring their huddle to the tables that lined the court. Maryland's two teams, one healthy and the other injured, would listen to Frese. When she had said her piece, they would clap together in unison.
“It was good to know,” Mincy said, “that they were thinking about us.”
Note: Maryland will host the 2014 NCAA Division I first and second rounds, the NCAA announced Tuesday. Games will be Saturday, March 22, and Monday, March 24, or Sunday, March 23 and Tuesday, March 25. Game times and dates will be announced at a later date.