Q&A with Maryland women's basketball coach Brenda Frese

Brenda Frese

Maryland women's basketball coach Brenda Frese sits down with Peter Schmuck. (Baltimore Sun photo by Jed Kirschbaum / November 3, 2010)

Maryland women's basketball coach Brenda Frese is entering her ninth season in College Park, and it might be the most challenging season of her stellar career. The No. 21 Terps will open their season Saturday night against Monmouth with a team so young that it does not include a single senior and a coach who has just been given the ultimate perspective check.

Frese and her husband, Mark Thomas, learned just weeks ago that one of their 2-year old twins, Tyler, has leukemia. Tyler has responded well to treatment and the outlook is positive, but Frese suddenly has a great deal more on her mind than she did when the Terps were headed to their first NCAA title in 2006.

She sat down with Baltimore Sun columnist Peter Schmuck to talk about both her new team and her family's new reality.

Question: Let's start off with an easy one since you're about to play your first real game of the new season. Tell me why you're excited about this year's team.

Answer: So many reasons to be excited about this year's team. With the returners, I feel like our sophomore and junior class are coming back in the best shape of their lives. They've had a year to be able to understand what it takes to play at the highest level. And then with such a talented top-two recruiting class in the country with our five freshmen. You know, all five are going to be able to make an immediate impact on this program, so just blending this team together to see what we are going to become.

Q: You don't have a senior on this team. How unusual is that at this level?

A: It's very unusual to not have a senior on the roster, but I think what is really exciting for our program is the core and the nucleus of these players is going to be here for a long time — two or three years playing together. We're thrilled by the fact that we're going to have so much time together.

Q: When you have a younger team, does it mean that you provide most of the leadership and then as the team matures there will be players who graduate into the leadership positions who then take some of that responsibility away from you?

A: Yes, absolutely. Our coaching staff will have the majority of mentoring and teaching leadership this season, and then you hope as the season unfolds, it becomes natural for a lot of our players. They all at certain points are going to have to be leaders. To me, it's fun. I love teaching and mentoring and developing young players.

Q: This also is a very tall team. What does that mean from a coaching perspective? Is tall just always good in basketball?

A: It's always great in basketball. Yes, we have eight players who are 6-2 or taller. That's got to be unheard of. I've never coached a team with this kind of length. We feel like we should absolutely be able to utilize our length to [our] advantage. I think there are going to be a lot of areas that we're going to be able to impact this game due to our size.

Q: I gotta tell you, I was looking down your roster — the first young lady on your roster is named Sequoia Austin. I'm from California. Sequoias are a big deal there. They are the tallest trees in the world. So I'm thinking, "What a cool name for a basketball player." She's the shortest on the team, by a lot. What's up with that?

A: That's a great point. I've never actually thought of that. Sequoia's a great story in and of itself. She's a walk-on that had been added to our roster, and going into my ninth year here at Maryland, only the second walk-on we've ever taken. She was someone I had known through the recruiting process when I went out and recruited Tianna Hawkins. Just brings a great presence and energy to herself. Very intelligent student. Got into Maryland on her own. Someone who provides a lot of spark and energy for our team.

Q: And who do you suspect will emerge as the leaders on this team?

A: I think, first and foremost, probably Kim Rodgers and Anjale Barrett, given the fact that they are redshirt juniors, so they've been in this program for four years. Their maturity level and experience help them on the floor, and I think, after that, it will be leadership by committee. I'm already seeing freshmen that are developing into some really neat leadership roles that I think they all can — at individual times — provide some leadership for us.

Q: You're ranked fourth in the ACC preseason poll. The only members of your team who are listed among the award-caliber players were listed under "Newcomers to watch." Does that mean that you're a developing team, or do you feel like you will compete for the ACC championship this year?

A: We feel like we'll compete every time we step out on the floor, and I think the rest will take care of itself. And I think a lot of that is, people don't know what the identity of this team will be, given that it is so young, but that's what makes it so exciting — that people don't have an understanding of the makeup and the dynamics of this team. This team has all the right ingredients, and as long as they stay the course, they are going to be very successful.

Q: You've had success everywhere you've been as a head coach. MAC Coach of the Year in 2000. Big Ten Coach of the Year at Minnesota. You come here and, in a relatively short time, you win the Division I championship. How does reaching the pinnacle of this profession — because that is what that trophy is — how does that change your life? How does that affect the way you coach, or does it?

A: Obviously, that's what every coach and player, that's your dream, and you aspire to be on that stage lifting that national championship trophy. For me, what it represents is an opportunity with a special team of players and coaches who all lined up as one for that season and committed to each other and made a tremendous amount of sacrifices. It's such a special feeling to be able to have that unfold, and I think the most important thing was to be able to bring that back to Maryland — their first national championship. To be able to go down in history is something that's truly amazing. In the scheme of life. A national championship? There's nothing more that compares to the birth of your children and raising your family, so I think you can always put it into perspective of a piece of hardware versus having your own family and those moments that you get to have. I think you have to understand [the difference] between both areas.

 

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