But Frese's ascent did not come without collateral damage. Her first marriage ended in divorce largely because she was so focused on her career. Competitors grumbled about her aggressive recruiting tactics. Her players at Minnesota felt betrayed, because they heard she'd taken the Maryland job before she was able to tell them personally.

"At what point do we get some loyalty?" Minnesota All-American Lindsay Whalen told the St. Paul Pioneer Press at the time. "We had been working so long to get things right again. Sometimes you wonder if there's any loyalty at all."

Frese, who signed a contract extension with Maryland in November and makes about $1 million a year in total compensation, acknowledges how relentless she was.

"I think I'm still very confident and brash at times," she says. "But I think I have more balance than I did at that time. … I'm probably a lot more fun to be around."

She rarely apologized, figuring all the hard charging was the only way to reach her sport's top rung. The Terps did it before anyone expected, capturing the 2006 title with a precocious group of underclassmen who played best in the tensest moments.

Observers around the sport talked dynasty, but it wasn't to be.

Three times the Terps made the tournament's final eight in the years that followed. Each time they lost, sometimes to less gifted teams.

'Maternal personality'

As badly as Frese wanted to win, she was equally determined to prove she could raise a family at the same time.

She married Thomas, whom she had met while he was filming a documentary on the program, in 2005. She learned she was pregnant with twins in 2007 and instead of easing up, coached that season from a black upholstered chair designed to support her increasingly strained back. Markus and Tyler were born Feb. 17, 2008, just a few weeks before the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

Yow remembers Frese phoning casually that day. "Brenda where are you?" the athletic director asked. The recovery room at the hospital, Frese replied.

"She had the twins and she was back on the bench shortly after," Yow says. "She was determined to show a woman can have a family and a successful career."

Almost from the start, the twins became fixtures around Maryland practices and games, fully integrated components of their mother's demanding life. A new atmosphere surrounded the program as players watched Frese balance basketball and family. Several current Terps cite the comfortable vibe as a reason for choosing the university.

"She's a mom," says freshman point guard Lexie Brown, describing Frese. "She has that maternal personality that I love, because I'm really close to my mom. We can connect on a level that some players don't get to with their coaches."

"I think that's what every person who recruits to Maryland says," agrees senior guard Sequoia Austin. "We love that family atmosphere. I think that's the greatest draw."

Thus everyone shared the fear inspired by Mark Thomas' call from the emergency room at Johns Hopkins Hospital on Sept. 28, 2010. Frese was on the road recruiting when her phone rang and her husband told her to pull over.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The words took Frese to the same place they would any parent — thoughts of losing a child. Thomas heard the tears choking her voice.

The first uncertain days were the toughest, worse than the weeks spent watching Tyler lose his hair and become bloated as chemotherapy drugs pumped through his body. By then, at least, Frese and Thomas knew he had a good chance to get well.

Given his weakened immune system, any temperature above 100.3 degrees meant a trip to the emergency room at Hopkins. Thomas bore the brunt of those scares, determined never to make Frese choose between family and career.

"But I know it tore at her to not always be the one comforting him," Thomas says. "If he had the choice, he always would want mommy first."