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Maryland Women Have Toy Turtles

Ok, more ways that a women's basketball locker room is not like a men's basketball locker room.

Example one: Little colored construction paper signs all over the room, bearing words like "Fun," "Be Aggressive," "TEAM," "Excitement," "Determination," "Passion," "Energy" and "Heart." The "Heart" sign was shaped like a....well, you guessed it. The team managers made the signs.

They also put up specific posters in each player's locker room, based on her individual make-up. (Marissa Coleman got "Confidence." Marah Strickland got "Focus.") And each player got a motivational quote.

Plus there are at least four "Yes We Can" signs scattered around the room, "because we all like Obama and we figure that we can do anything if we play together," Anjale Barrett told me.

Example two: And then there's the fishbowl in the middle of the room filled with 36 toy turtles, each bearing a name of one of the team's players, coaches or support staff members. They came inside their shells, and when you drop them in water, a few hours later the turtles emerge. I'd like to see Gary and Greivis pull that stunt. In fact, I'd pay to listen to them talking about toy turtles.

"We're so sentimental," Barrett told me. "We're so emotional. No, I'm serious; little cute things like that, men don't have that in their locker room. So now we're gonna keep that here for the rest of the season ."

The players were telling all the curious media members that the turtles arrived before the ACC tournament, but the back story is even better: The 36 turtles were actually a birthday gift from Kristi Toliver's mom, Peggy, back in January. See, Peggy teaches physical education and calls herself a "motivator of five year olds." Cool, I said, but the Terps are 19, 20 and 21.

"That's right," Peggy agreed. "But there's no difference. That's the bottom line, because it really isn't any different."

So Kristi was turning 22 in January, and "at some point, at the age of 22, you run out of ideas for your children," Peggy said. So she wanted a gift that would inspire and motivate her daughter, but would also allow Kristi to inspire and motivate her teammates. She found a few of these out-of-their-shells-in-water turtles at a Cracker Barrel, of all places, and decided that was the perfect gift. So she counted up the number of players and support staff and coaches, reached 36, and figured that was the proper number.

"And I'm glad I didn't find all 36 at one time, or I would never have spent that amount of money on such a crazy gift," she said. "But I kept finding eight here, four there. I went out to visit family in Fort Wayne, I got eight of them there."

You don't see too many Cracker Barrels in D.C., I pointed out.

"No, but you do between here and Harrisonburg," she said. "I hit the gold mine in Front Royal."

So the 36 turtles and bowl were given to Kristi in January, with instructions to do with them as she wanted: keep them, give them away immediately, or save them for a rainy March day. She waited until just before the ACC tourney, handed out the turtles, and then Maryland when on that crazy three-game run.

"I guess SHE decided when the right time was that they were coming out of their shells," Peggy said.

"The theme was getting out of your comfort zone, doing everything that it takes to win," Kristi said. "Everybody put [theirs] in there, and they call came out of their shell. And we've been playing well, so we'll go with it."

"Our team is definitely coming out of their shells," Coach Brenda Frese said. "Especially for our young kids, I thought the ACC tournament specifically was for us to be able to get a lot of confidence. And now, collectively, as a team, I just feel that we are kind of at an all-time high of confidence ."

"There is so much under the shell that no one knows," Peggy said as I left. I don't doubt that. Really, this is a whole new world for me.

By Dan Steinberg  |  March 24, 2009; 2:27 PM ET
Categories:  College Basketball , Terps  
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