In October, Maryland women's basketball coach Chris Weller, who rarely says anything outlandish, said this year's team could be her best ever.
It's too soon to know if she was correct about that, but for right now Weller has the best team in the country.
The Terps (14-1, 4-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) today were noted the No. 1 team in the nation in this week's Associated Press poll of coaches, racking up 65 of 72 first-place votes cast. The vote marks the first time they have been ranked at the top of the poll in the 17-year history of the program.
Today, Weller, in her typical fashion, was guardedly happy about the ranking.
"You just have to put it in perspective. It's exciting for the program. It brings recognition to women's basketball in the area and to me, that's exciting," said Weller.
She said the team was also excited about the ranking, but also would put it into perspective.
"I know they feel good about this and I want them to," said Weller. "But people go in and out of that ranking all the time. What really matters is who's number one at the end of the season."
Maryland becomes the 14th school ever to be voted No. 1 in the 16-year history of the poll, and the third team this season to get the top ranking. The Terps had been ranked second for the first two weeks of the 1978-79 season, but never any higher.
The stage was set for Maryland's rise last Wednesday night when it beat Virginia, then ranked No. 1, 67-65 in Charlottesville. Then Tennessee, last week's second-ranked team, lost 80-78 in overtime to Mississippi Saturday night.
The Cavaliers (14-1) slipped to second, getting six first-place, while third-ranked Stanford (12-1) collected the other first-place ballot. Tennessee fell to fourth, and Iowa rounds out the top five.
Even before the new poll was released, the Terps were attracting more attention than usual.
After Maryland beat Virginia last week, the phones in Weller's office and in the sports information department rang more frequently than they had all season.
And Saturday night at Cole Field House the team drew a crowd of 2,033 -- almost double the previous high for a game (1,025 against Rutgers) and almost four times the average attendance of 574.
Weller attributes a share of the new recognition and attention to Lisa Speas, the athletic department's new assistant marketing director, who is specifically responsible for promoting women's basketball, especially with area youth groups.
"Lisa Speas has made that a priority," said Weller. "In Maryland, we have the fastest growing AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) program in the country. Girls' basketball needs all the support it can get and Lisa's trying to make sure they are aware of what we are doing. The first group of people she's tried to involve are the young people."
Today's No. 1 ranking, which the Terps will defend tonight at College Park against 15th-ranked Clemson, is the latest sign of success for a program that has been near the top of women's basketball for more than 15 years.
Under Weller, Maryland has appeared in three Final Fours, won eight ACC tournament championships and spent 100 weeks ranked in the top 10 of the AP poll.
This season, the Terps began the season ranked 15th, but made a steady climb up the ranks to No. 12, then to No. 9. then a stunning 85-58 win over then-No. 7 Penn State boosted them to No. 7.
From there they inched to No. 5, and even advanced to No. 4 after their only loss of the season, 69-60 to then-No. 18 Auburn on Dec. 30. Last week, the Terps moved to No. 3, their highest ranking since their last Final Four appearance in 1988-89.
Because of that tradition of success, Weller said she is not worried about the pressure that a top ranking might place on players who have never been ranked there before.
"I know that some people have forgotten, but Maryland has always been perceived as a top program. This is nothing new," said Weller. "Nobody doesn't get up for Maryland, whether we're ranked number one or not."