COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Maryland doesn’t join the Big Ten Conference until 2014, but there’s no time like the present to notice the budding rivalry between the Terrapins and Spartans.
This is the second year in a row the MSU women made the trip to College Park for the NCAA Tournament, where they fell a year ago, 67-55, to Louisville in the first round.
Head coach Suzy Merchant is excited to add Maryland, as well as Rutgers, to the Big Ten and said the many times the Spartanshave played at the home of the Terrapins will be key when 2014 rolls around.
“The nice thing is we’ve played here twice, so when we play here, we’ll be like the old veterans here in terms of the Big Ten,” Merchant said. “It’s still hard to wrap your head around Maryland and Rutgers in the Big Ten, but they’ve got great women’s programs, and it adds a unique twist to the Big Ten.”
She joked this weekend was a conference appreciation weekend because Quinnipiac, who Maryland beat in the first round, is joining Marist, MSU’s first round opponent, in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Merchant and Maryland head coach Brenda Frese also have a connection dating back to both of them getting their starts at small schools in the Midwest.
“It’s unique in a lot of ways,” she said. “We’re both moms, (have) two boys and a crazy profession sometimes. I really appreciate her drive and her competitiveness.”
Frese and Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer have a combined career record of 1,194-434, and are among the top 25-winningest Division I coaches of all time.
She said things are getting better for Maryland, and the Big Ten and MSU are legitimate competitors for the foreseeable future.
“It is exciting the vision going ahead that a year from now we will be joining the Big Ten Conference,” Frese said. “They’re going to be a familiar opponent in terms of the rivalry in the upcoming years.”
Maryland won the national championship in 2006, while Rutgers made it to the Final Four as recently as 2007.
Sophomore guard Kiana Johnson will be a senior when the Terrapins leave the Atlantic Coast Conference for the Big Ten, and said she’s not looking at this game with the hopes of a rivalry in mind. She said she’s looking forward to getting on the court more than anything.
“It’s hard to determine that,” Johnson said. “It might be depending on how the game goes, but we’ll just see when they come into our league.”
She said she doesn’t like the addition of the Rutgers and Maryland, and that it’s going to complicate things.
“I like the Big Ten how it is now,” she said. “It was called the Big Ten, but now it’s not and we have twelve teams and we’re going to add two more teams so it’ll be the Big Fourteen, technically.”
Still, Johnson said the best thing about the addition of both Maryland and Rutgers will be the high level of play they both bring to the court.
“I’m really excited about the competition, most definitely,” Johnson said. “(Maryland’s) a good team, Rutgers is a good team, and I’m excited to have them.”