There were moments, Brenda Frese can concede now, when she wondered just what she’d gotten herself into after she arrived at Maryland in 2002.
Take the first game she coached in College Park.
“We played Loyola, and we barely won,” Frese said recently. “I remember getting that first game ball, first win. It was just excruciating. It was painful. Just remembering, ‘If it was going to be that difficult to beat Loyola, what was it going to be like [against ACC teams]?’”
The first season was a slog. Since then, Maryland is a sensational 242-68 with a pair of ACC tournament titles, four trips to the Elite Eight and big trophy on display in the Comcast Center lobby to commemorate the 2006 national title.
With one decade at Maryland in the books and her second starting Nov. 9 when the Terrapins open against Mount St. Mary’s, Frese’s program might be in its optimal condition.
She has a returning All-American in Alyssa Thomas, who still has two years of eligibility remaining. Maryland has won at least one NCAA tournament game in eight of the past nine seasons, rolling up four 30-win seasons along the way.
And there are the typically large expectations, with Maryland ranked No. 5 in the preseason Associated Press poll thanks in part to four returning starters from a team that reached a regional final last March.
Frese inherited a program steeped in tradition but 10 years removed from its last trip out of the NCAA tournament’s first round. Frese was a fast-riser, skipping from Iowa State (where she was an assistant) to head coaching gigs at Ball State, Minnesota and Maryland in a span of barely three years.
The question when Frese arrived at Maryland wasn’t so much whether the Terps would eventually thrive but how long she might stick around. It turns out that wasn’t a major concern and won’t be going forward; Frese signed a contract extension through 2017 last year to remain at a school where she’s already created a large imprint.
“I feel like it’s taken 10 years to finally get it right like a well-oiled machine,” Frese said. “When you talk about the coaching staff first and foremost, you couldn’t ask for a more complete coaching staff. Just A to Z, our support staff outweighs a lot of other programs out there. And the 11 players we have in our program, you can go to sleep at night. We have just 11 quality people and players.”
The challenges, of course, are different. Frese’s initial task was convincing recruits to take a chance on Maryland, and her second-ranked class in 2004 ultimately provided many of the cornerstones of the ‘06 title team. Maintaining a program is another matter, one Frese has done with the same enthusiasm she had when she arrived.
“Coach B, she’s great,” Thomas said. “She loves what she does, and you can tell she wants to be the best and bring in the best. That’s just the atmosphere that she’s started here.”
While that is a constant, other things have changed as Frese. She’s the third-longest tenured coach in the ACC and has a decade’s worth of accomplishments to sell to prospective players.
Most importantly, she’s also a mom with twin 4-year-old boys.
“I think I have a lot more balance than when I first came in and it was strictly, completely basketball,” Frese said.