When Maryland women’s basketball coach Brenda Frese first arrived in College Park, Md., in 2002, she never could’ve envisioned tallying 500 wins with the program.
After taking over the team for Chris Weller, who piled up 499 wins with the Terrapins, Frese was focused on having enough success to ensure a second contract.
Before arriving at Maryland, Frese coached at Ball State from 1999-2001 and Minnesota in 2001-02. Frese won 35 games at Ball State and 22 games in her only season at Minnesota, leading the Golden Gophers to an NCAA Tournament appearance.
“I was just hoping that I would be good enough to be able to get a contract extension and be able to fulfill maybe one more contract, that I would be good enough that they wouldn’t fire me,” Frese said on Glenn Clark Radio Feb. 16. “It’s amazing to think back to the journey of what it’s been like to get to this point.”
Now, nearly 19 years later, the 50-year-old Frese is in rarified air as the winningest coach in Maryland women’s basketball history after passing Weller with a 95-73 win against Nebraska at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Neb., Feb. 14. (Frese won her 501st game at Maryland with a 103-58 victory against Illinois Feb. 17.)
When Frese picked up her 500th career victory at Nebraska in January 2019, her parents and high school coaches were in attendance. On Feb. 14, both of Frese’s older sisters were at the arena to witness the accomplishment. While Frese couldn’t celebrate with her sisters and invite them into the locker room due to COVID-19 protocols, she rejoiced with her staff and players in the locker room as everyone wore masks.
Despite the peculiarity of the celebration amid a hectic 2020-21 season, Frese was still able to reflect on the remarkable accomplishment.
“I think it’s great that as a coach it forces you to have that pause, because we are always onto the next practice and the next game,” Frese said. “I do think it allows you in a really intense part of your season to make sure that you do take the time to smell the roses, understand how long that journey’s been to be in this position.”
During her 19 seasons leading the program, Frese has compiled 16 NCAA Tournament appearances, three Final Fours and a national championship in 2006. She entered this season with 16 straight 20-win seasons. In addition to the product on the floor, Frese has also developed a reputation as a tremendous recruiter, bringing in 15 top-15 recruiting classes during her tenure.
“I’m really, really proud of just the consistency factor that we’ve had in this time because I think we make it look easy even though it’s really hard to do,” Frese said. “I’m really proud of all the coaches and players that have lined up to help us uphold this standard that we have.”
While the pandemic posed a challenge for this season, Frese also was confronted with personnel changes and significant roster turnover. Kaila Charles graduated and is now in the WNBA, while former starters Taylor Mikesell (Oregon) and Shakira Austin (Ole Miss) transferred out of the program.
However, that hasn’t stopped Maryland from remaining the class of the Big Ten. The Terps are 14-1 and are the highest scoring team in the nation at 92.4 points per game — currently a team record. Maryland is balanced offensively as well; all five starters average double-figure points. That group is headlined by sophomore guard Ashley Owusu, who averages 19.1 points per game.
Fellow sophomore guard Diamond Miller averages 17.1 points per game, while graduate guard Katie Benzan (15.1), senior forward Chloe Bibby (14.6) and redshirt sophomore forward Mimi Collins (10.1) are contributing as well. Highly-touted freshman Angel Reese (St. Frances) fractured a bone in her foot early in the season, but there’s hope she can potentially return in time for the NCAA Tournament.
“This team I can’t say enough about, I really cherish [it],” Frese said. “There were so many unknowns going into this season. It’s just one [team] that I’m truly just appreciative every single day how easy it’s been to coach.”
With the NCAA Tournament just about a month away, Frese is focused on remaining in the moment with an understanding that things can change rapidly at any time.
“A lot of things that we’re going to have to keep our fingers crossed [on], a lot of things are going to be out of our control,” Frese said. “All we can do is control today and be the best possible team that we are today.”
All statistics are entering Maryland’s game against Minnesota Feb. 20.
For more from Frese, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics