- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2007

During a down moment in the midst of visiting the White House, throwing out the first pitch at Camden Yards, collaborating on a book and pounding the recruiting trail, Maryland women’s basketball coach Brenda Frese chatted with two colleagues and her boss about the challenges that follow a surprising championship.

Frese spoke with Baylor women’s coach Kim Mulkey, whose team won in 2005; Florida men’s coach Billy Donovan, whose team won last year and, like Maryland, returned all of its best players; and Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow, a former coach.

Their emphasis: Don’t change and don’t forget how the championship was won.

“Billy was the biggest in saying that it was important to stay true to what got you there,” Frese said earlier this week. “Even though you have to make decisions that spread you thin, you have to stay focused on things like recruiting.”

Frese has followed those cues, and when Maryland starts its bid to repeat Sunday against Harvard in Hartford, Conn., the players shouldn’t expect a radical departure in Frese’s message.

In fact, sophomore guard Kristi Toliver already knows what will be said.

“I can pretty much predict what she’s going to say,” she said. “Before this game, it’s going to be things like, ‘Don’t underestimate the opponent, go in with a mind-set of getting better every game, think about the big picture, don’t take things for granted.’

“It’s going to be a big picture-type pregame speech.”

Told of her point guard’s forecast, Frese laughed and said: “That’s a good observation. To be honest, I haven’t thought about what I’m going to say, but when you’re around a coach for 30-plus games, the player gets to understand a coach’s personality.”

Unlike the men’s game, in which there has been only one repeat winner (Duke 1991-92) since 1974, the women’s game has two three-peat winners — Connecticut and Tennessee — in the last 11 years.

The last two defending champions — Baylor and Connecticut — lost in the Sweet 16 the following year.

In her fifth season as Maryland’s coach and eighth year overall — stops at Ball State and Minnesota preceded her arrival in College Park — Frese has faced a unique set of circumstances this year.

The Terrapins won the national title and returned nearly all of their scoring and rebounding. But despite the title, the team still started two sophomores and had only one senior in the playing rotation.

“You need to have perspective,” Frese said. “What we did last year was obviously a year or so away from any of our expectations. We’re still a young team.”

Frese’s biggest challenge has been to manage the pressure placed on the players.

“The outsiders — media, parents — have created a set of expectations that are sometimes unfair and unrealistic, so I’ve had to try and taper that,” she said. “We’re 27-5. We’ve had a tremendous season.”

That balancing act means Frese pushes different buttons depending on the player and because all of her key players — like Toliver — have semi-figured out her style, mixing up the message has been important.

“She’s big with communication,” Toliver said. “Through the recruiting process, I got an idea of what Coach B was about. Last year, I understood what she was trying to tell me, but I have a better grasp of her motives this year.”

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