- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Brenda Frese gazes intently from a high-backed executive chair on the sideline at Comcast Center, her stillness completely belying her typical approach to working with the Maryland women’s basketball team.

The stomping, the frequent chatter, the kinetic approach to coaching — it’s all submerged, replaced with silent-yet-still-furious scribbling of mental notes.

She wears a black T-shirt and keeps her hands near her burgeoning belly, every now and then softly caressing it while watching Crystal Langhorne’s clockwork post moves or Kristi Toliver precisely run a play.

And then comes the most un-Frese-like moment of all.

A yawn. Just before 2 p.m. With more than 30 minutes left in a practice the day before a conference game against Miami.

No one has a better excuse for midafternoon exhaustion than Frese, who is 35 weeks pregnant with twins. She still is regularly around the Terrapins, remarkably active for a woman who will give birth in less than a month.

“It probably teaches me or anyone who would go through it that you can do more than you realize,” Frese said last week in her office. “At the same time, I’m glad I have so much on my plate because it distracts you from all the aches and pains of what you go through when you’re pregnant carrying twins.”

Not that everything is business as usual.

Travel was curtailed several weeks ago, and Frese was not with No. 4 Maryland (23-2, 7-1 ACC) when it rallied past Virginia Tech last night. Assistant Daron Park acts as the most vocal member of Frese’s staff, explaining the scouting report in detail one day and working officials during a game the next.

But it’s still Frese’s program, the one she took over six years ago, quickly reinvigorated and eventually led to the 2006 national title. And she has made sure to be around to help the Terps prepare to chase another this spring, sticking around even as the Feb. 25 deadline for inducing labor draws near.

Coaches in all sports habitually talk about building a family. Frese’s situation lends the cliche a literal meaning, though it is remarkable she maintains any — let alone daily — involvement with her team so late in her pregnancy.

“Most people at her stage, they’re at home with their feet propped up watching Judge Judy,” assistant Diane Richardson said. “But she’s here every day.”

• • •

It was late last summer when Frese called together her team to tell them of two new additions to the program.

On the surface, it was nothing out of the ordinary. Frese, a recruiting dynamo known for how much time she spends scouring high school gyms seeking Maryland’s next star, rolls up heralded class after heralded class.

But it was the first time she unveiled a sonogram.

“At first I was like, ‘Who is she talking about?’ and I remember Harp [teammate Laura Harper] said, ‘I told you, I told you. She’s wearing loose clothes all the time,’ ” Langhorne said.

Frese’s wardrobe would not be the only aspect of her life to change. In October, she felt a zing down her leg as she stepped out of her car, the product of a bulging disc.

The injury cost her a week and ensured she would attend twice-weekly physical therapy sessions in addition to her regular visits to the doctor as her due date approaches. Yet it was also a reason to slow down before she went deeper into the pregnancy.

“As bad as it was, it was a blessing in disguise because it set me back and made me say, ‘All right, I’ve got to change. I’ve got to make some modifications,’ ” Frese said. “Had that not happened, I’m not sure how far I would have taken it. It definitely put all my priorities together.”

She learned soon enough just how tiring it would be handling both a team and twins. She heard from Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne, who had a son on the eve of the 2001 NCAA tournament, and talked with Longwood coach Kristin Caruso, who had twins in 2006.

Frese soon cut back on travel, and a two-game swing to California over Thanksgiving weekend marked the first time she missed a game. Her last road game was a bus trip to James Madison in December, and the tightness in her stomach afterward was enough to reinforce the need to be careful.

“Even if I wanted to [travel] at this point, I couldn’t,” Frese said. “I don’t have the energy. To get on a plane and do what’s required when you go on a road trip and get down there — there’s just no way.”

Her days have become shorter with a typical arrival in the office around 10 a.m. and a departure between 4 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Still, she talks with Park on game days, usually right before or after a shootaround to go over some details. And she and her husband, Mark Thomas, watch all of the road games from home, some on television and others via the broadband ACC Select service.

For her first game, she was stuck with an online game tracker. No audio. No video. No way of knowing what was happening in real time.

“Horrible, horrible. Who invented that? I’m kidding, but you can’t see anything,” Frese said. “That was my first time ever when they were playing UC Santa Barbara. My husband and I were just screaming at the computer. Then they tease you with the ball bouncing around, whether it goes in or out. Excruciating.”

•••

Thursday’s home date with Miami is much more enjoyable. Frese scrambles over to halfcourt for some pregame festivities before taking a spot in her trusty chair, which is equipped with a pad for back support and is wheeled from her office to the arena and back each day. A water bottle sits atop the scorer’s table, and Frese frequently reaches for it.

Park works the sideline when the game is live, with Frese nodding and clapping as the action unfolds. Occasionally she leans forward and shouts out advice like “Go middle,” but most of the message comes from Park.

The two meshed seamlessly since he arrived in the offseason, and their ability to merge their voices into one so successfully is a priceless asset. So too is the Terps’ experience; two seniors and two juniors start, and the two most heavily used reserves are seniors. All were cogs in the national title team.

“You look back to how it was last year and the year we won it, and she’s not as animated as she was,” forward Marissa Coleman said. “It’s different not having her be able to do those things. At the same time, I don’t think it could have happened at a better time because we have so many veterans on this team. The leadership we’re missing from her when we’re on the road we have from each other because we’ve been there and done that and know the ropes.”

Frese confers with her assistants at the start of a timeout before a manager fetches the chair and moves it in front of the bench. As Miami hangs around early on, she emphasizes communication on the defensive end.

At other times, she brings some levity to the huddle. As the Terps return to the floor after halftime, they see a Chick-Fil-A promotion featuring the restaurant chain’s bovine mascots.

“Today, the cows walked in and she said, ‘There go my siblings,’ ” Langhorne said.

There is time for the occasional snicker on the sideline and why not? This is not one of the most intense crucibles of the season. The Terps need less than 13 minutes to open up a 10-point lead on the undersized Hurricanes, and Miami never gets closer.

Not every game could be so smooth. Several other outings have sapped Frese of what little energy she still has at this point.

“Being in the environment of our Duke game here at home or Georgia Tech, those days are such long days for me,” Frese said. “By the time I get through the door, I really need the next day to recover. Before, you bounce back up. Usually those off days, I’d be out recruiting. I never really used it as an off day. It’s completely different this year.”

On this night, the Terps cruise to a 90-50 victory, and Frese is relaxed enough not to even bother with moving the chair during one timeout in the second half. There’s another milestone to celebrate after the buzzer (Langhorne topped the 2,000-point plateau), and she greets university president C.D. Mote Jr. when he comes over to the bench from his courtside seat.

It’s one more game down, one more fulfilling experience. With the Terps likely to play only six times in a 35-day stretch heading into the ACC tournament, Frese admitted she was ecstatic when she first saw a draft of the front-loaded conference schedule.

There’s no timetable on when Frese will return, though an obvious target would be the NCAA tournament opener at Comcast on March 23. Some details — the decision to hire a night-time nurse to get through the season, the presence of in-laws 10 minutes from home — are already present.

Others, such as whether the twins will spend time in a neonatal intensive care unit or head straight home, remain unknown. So too is just how Frese will wrestle with finding the right balance for her family and her team.

Both are important and figure to be intertwined for some time. In some ways, they already are, since pouring attention into the team helped Frese stay on her feet far longer than most women carrying multiple children.

“A lot of women will comment they can’t believe I’m still up standing or coaching and going to games, because they’d be home in bed,” Frese said. “But for me, I just think when you’re home and you let your mind go to work, you feel a lot worse with those aches and pains. When I’m sitting at practice, my focus is in practice or this team. I feel like I’ve gotten through that easier.”

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