- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2008

Maryland women’s coach Brenda Frese sensed something was off during the Terrapins’ season-opening win over Princeton.

Pregnant with twins due in March, Frese couldn’t be her typical, energetic self while on the sidelines. So before the Terrapins’ next game, she told first-year assistant Daron Park he would pace the sidelines during the Terps’ remaining games.

“We didn’t like the feel. We didn’t like how our team responded,” Park recalled. “The next morning on the plane down to Chapel Hill [N.C.], Brenda said, ‘I’ve thought about it. You need to be up. You need to be standing. They need to feed off your energy. So go get them.’”

Park is a hands-on coach who prides himself on scouting and teaching. And since assistants Erica Floyd and Diane Richardson spend time on the road recruiting, Frese considered Park the logical choice to lead the Terps during games.

“He really loves film and coaching on the floor, so he was a perfect fit,” Frese said.

It has seemed that way so far this season. The fifth-ranked Terps (17-1, 1-0 ACC) have excelled, with their only slip up coming at Rutgers.

More importantly, they are improved. Last season, opponents’ dribble penetration and an inconsistent offense led to a pair of regular-season home losses and an early exit from the NCAA tournament.

This season, the Terps boast a renewed defensive intensity. They are holding opponents to 35.7 percent shooting and have an average margin of victory of 21.4 points.

Frese considers the upgraded defense a result of the team responding to Park’s intensity on the sidelines.

“He’s done a tremendous job,” Frese said. “It’s been a dream come true because we line up philosophically with our systems and are really in tune together. To think, for a first-year assistant to come in and take the reigns like that, the responsibility to be coaching in games against ranked opponents and getting ready for ACC play, it’s been very impressive.”

Park said the adjustment from an assistant on the bench to animated game manager didn’t take much time. It helped that he spent four years coaching Westminster College, an NAIA school, before becoming an assistant at Utah in 2004. But he admitted it took some time to shake the rust off when he began directing Maryland’s games this season.

“I remember after we played Oklahoma, telling coach I was out of shape and I was tired,” Park said. “I forgot just how much energy you expend when you’re up all the time. You shift your mind-set a little bit, but at the same time, as an assistant, you need to act like a head coach on the bench. You always need to be in your coach’s ear, and you always need to have to have suggestions and be thinking the game through.”

At Comcast Center, Park has Frese sitting on the bench to consult with. But on the road, it’s Park’s show. On doctor’s recommendations, Frese did not made the trip to California in November or to North Carolina this week for Maryland’s ACC opener against Wake Forest.

Park led the Terps without Frese, something he has to get used to as the season and her pregnancy progresses.

“I’m excited for all the challenges of competing in the best conference in women’s basketball,” Park said. “It is all about the road games, the hostile environments. This will be my first time going to any arena in the ACC other than ours. It will be a fun experience, it will be a tremendous challenge and I’m looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting to work.”

Just as the Terps are determined to overcome last year’s stumbles, Park has something to prove this season. He has a chance to show he can lead a team competing for a national championship.

“I like the direction that this team is going,” Park said. “I like that they’ve responded to me, being a new coach. I think that they’ve helped my transition period. We always try to learn each game how we can do better. Hopefully as the team is peaking in March, I’m peaking in March.”

Today’s game

CLEMSON (7-8) AT No. 5 MARYLAND (17-1)

When: 2 p.m.

Where: Comcast Center

Outlook: The Terrapins look to continue their winning ways in their ACC home opener against Clemson. Maryland, winners of seven straight, is coming off of an 83-49 win at Wake Forest on Thursday. Senior D’Lesha Lloyd leads Clemson with 9.1 points a game. Maryland leads the all-time series 34-24.

Mike Fratto

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