Frese is showing signs of reviving UM women

College basketball: The Terps players have a different attitude and style as the first-year coach makes her mark on a struggling program.

February 04, 2003|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - It's only in miniature that Brenda Frese sees the billboards that display her face, the ones everyone else can see when driving around the Baltimore area.

"That's the only time I've seen them," said the new head coach for Maryland women's basketball, pointing at a small pile of replicas sitting on a conference table in her office. "I've been on the road recruiting and with our own schedule and team travel. But I think it's great to have a billboard like that for women's basketball. It's great publicity - a great sign, no pun intended."

Hokey as the message may be - "Are you ready for the Frese?" one asks - they are part of an increased effort to market women's basketball after the school made her the new coach last April. Frese, 32, signed a six-year, $1.75 million deal to replace longtime coach Chris Weller.

There likely won't be an 11th NCAA tournament berth this spring for the Terps, (8-10, 2-5 Atlantic Coast Conference). Though senior forward Renneika Razor is having a productive season, there likely isn't an All-America honor forthcoming, either.

If there's good news coming from the billboards - or the radio ads, the junk mail and the Byrd Stadium video scoreboard - it's Frese and Frese alone. The marketing campaign makes an implicit pitch: Come out and watch the 2002 national Coach of the Year one day do for Maryland what she did last season for Minnesota. There she took a team that went 8-20 in 2001 and shepherded it to a 22-8 record and a second-place finish in the Big Ten.

"Brenda Frese is an extraordinary young coach, with the game knowledge, enthusiasm and personality to recruit the best in the country and to coach us into the top 10, eventually," said Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow.

Yow pointed to the fall signings of Kalika France and Shay Doron, both ranked among the nation's top 50 players. "We are already beginning to see a rise in interest with the early signing of two top 25 guards," she said.

Good things to come

Signs of what could be comes in dribs and drabs. Landing two blue-chippers is one. Another is the women's team drawing 5,078 - the largest attendance since 1996 - on Saturday as the Terps beat North Carolina State, 74-72, in overtime.

The play of Razor, the nation's steals leader, and junior-college transfer Delvonna Oliver also elicit a smile. And while three freshmen each average around 20 minutes a game, the Terps have not been the consistently easy marks they seemed sure to be when graduation took their top two players from last season, Deedee Warley and Marche Strickland.

This was apparent last week when then-No. 7 North Carolina came to Comcast Center and needed Coretta Brown's bank shot at the buzzer to escape with a 83-82 victory.

"We were in it - North Carolina knows that they left and escaped with a victory," Frese said. "I'm just proud of the team and the effort that it played with."

Nonetheless, this is a classic rebuilding season. In the team's near-upset, there was also a statement in their out-rebounding and outshooting the Tar Heels and still coming away empty after enjoying an 11-point lead in the second half.

Though Maryland had 22 assists in that game and got a combined 38 points from senior Terri Daniels and freshman Chrissy Fisher, the firepower normally comes from Razor and Oliver. Defensively, the Terps have allowed 77 points a game and opponents are shooting 47 percent from the field.

Frese predicted something like that before the season began, with five new players on the team.

"You always want to think that you're going to have some postseason and you'll do well in the ACC postseason tournament, but realistically, the goal for this year was to get better," Frese said in October. "We're taking over a program that won 13 games last year and lost five seniors. This team just needs to learn how to play together and have confidence and have fun."

Even with the possibility that Maryland may not win 10 games this season, the atmosphere within the program is more upbeat than last season, when the Terps started in the Top 25 and finished last in the ACC.

That was the last season for Weller, who retired after 27 years and 499 wins. The banners from women's Final Four appearances (1978, 1982, 1989) that hang from the arena's ceiling are her doing and played a role in making the head coach's job attractive when it came open.

But by the time Frese took over, those banners were as outdated as the building that once housed them. The Terps hadn't finished a season as a ranked team since 1993. In general, the best recruits near the school went elsewhere - of the 13 Parade All-Americans from the Baltimore and Washington metro areas over the past decade, none signed with Maryland.

"Not to discredit what Chris Weller has done, but sometimes change is good, for whatever reason," ESPN college basketball analyst Nancy Lieberman said. "You can't have the athletes you have in that area and not be able to win every year."

Impressive resume

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