- The Washington Times - Monday, April 3, 2006

BOSTON — The remarkable rise of the Maryland women’s basketball program began at 3 a.m. in April 2002 when a contract signed by Brenda Frese was slid under the Atlanta hotel room door of athletic director Debbie Yow.

Hours earlier, Yow and senior associate athletic director Kathy Worthington faxed an offer to Frese, who had just completed her first year at Minnesota with Associated Press national coach of the year honors.

“We were on the phone at 11 p.m.,” remembered Yow, who was in Atlanta to watch the Maryland men’s team win the national championship. “We had just sent her the contract. We were like, ‘Please sign the contract. We’re ready to go. Don’t visit Ohio State. We were there first. You love everything about Maryland. Remember how your visit went. This is going to be special.’

“I told Kathy, ‘I’m exhausted. I’m going to bed. If she signs the contract, don’t wake me up — just slide it under the door.’”

Four hours later, Yow had her women’s basketball coach.

Four years later, that basketball coach is on the cusp of delivering Yow and Maryland the school’s first women’s basketball national championship. The Terrapins play Duke tonight at 8:30 at TD Banknorth Garden.

As Maryland practiced yesterday afternoon, Yow sat in the bowels of the arena describing her recruiting of Frese. A former coach, Yow treated Frese like a blue-chip player. The labor paid off when Maryland outmaneuvered Ohio State and other schools to hire Frese. In four years, she has turned the Terps from an ACC also-ran into a national player.

“She’s an overachiever — she always has been,” Yow said. “There’s a saying in the South: If a dog’s going to bite you, he’s going to bite you as a pup. That’s Brenda. She was 31 when we hired her, and she had already resurrected Ball State and Minnesota, so she was already jumping up and biting folks. She’s always been that way.”

So are Frese’s players. Maryland starts two sophomores, two freshmen and one junior. The other three Final Four teams have a combined five sophomores and no freshman starters. Four years ago, most of the talent that will wear the black uniforms tonight didn’t consider College Park an ideal destination.

Marissa Coleman is one of five players from the Virginia-Maryland area. Coleman, a McDonald’s High School All-American at St. John’s College in the District, scoffed when Maryland first inquired.

“When my coach said they called, I was like, ‘Maryland? No interest,’” she said. “They hadn’t been so good in a couple years. But through the whole process, my dad said, ‘Be interested in every school because you never know what you might think.’ Being 45 minutes from my house, I went to a couple games, talked to the coaches and gradually built a relationship to where it seemed like a perfect fit.”

Coleman and point guard Kristi Toliver, also a McDonald’s All-American, made up Frese’s third consecutive blue-chip recruiting class. Early in Frese’s first season at Maryland, which ended at 10-18, she signed Shay Doron from Great Neck, N.Y.; guard Kalika France from Forestville, Md.; and forward Aurelie Noirez from France. Crystal Langhorne, Laura Harper, Ashleigh Newman and Jade Perry joined the team last year.

It was Doron, who played at traditional prep power Christ the King, that got her future teammates’ attention.

“Shay started off the whole process,” Langhorne said. “She took the biggest leap of faith to come here, and we all followed.”

Said Frese: “For her to be able to believe in herself and this program shows what an outstanding person she is. She’s doing what she talked about and dreamed about, and to be the catalyst in leading this team is special to see.”

Doron called her decision an “educated leap of faith.”

“They went from not being anywhere in my top 100 schools to my top five because, right away, I clicked with Coach B,” she added. “And with every meeting, things got better.”

As the talent got better, so did the team’s record. The Terps went 18-13 in 2003-04, reaching the second round of the NCAA tournament, and improved to 22-10 last year but again were eliminated in the second round.

But starting with an overtime win at No. 1 North Carolina, the program has risen to a new level. And with a young nucleus, Maryland is expected to become a perennial power. Although the program isn’t close to making money — the operating budget is $1.8 million this year, the revenues only $200,000 — Yow expects a spike in season ticket sales as more people in the metropolitan area decide a trek on the Beltway to College Park is worth their time.

Standing outside the Maryland locker room yesterday, where “Maury” was on television and the players were critiquing each other’s facial expressions in newspaper pictures, Frese called coaching a youthful team “easy.”

“They obviously buy into anything you tell them,” she said. “This is all uncharted territory for them. To watch their eyes as they pick up the newspapers and the look at the pictures of them on the front page with their youth and humor and child’s play attitude they’ve always had, it’s something pretty special.”


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