Terps are heeding Frese in her call to rise, shine

On-the-move, No. 19 team tests No. 3 Duke tomorrow

Women

February 12, 2005|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Brenda Frese, the Maryland women's basketball coach, doesn't pretend to be as popular as some of her colleagues, such as men's basketball coach Gary Williams and football coach Ralph Friedgen.

But as Frese learned last fall, her anonymity could be a thing of the past.

Frese went to a late-night movie near her home in Columbia dressed in sweatpants and with her shoulder-length blond hair pulled back in an unfamiliar ponytail.

"In my opinion, I looked unrecognizable," Frese recalled. "I got out of my car and a couple walked up to me and said, `Hey, Coach, how's it going?' and commented about the team. I was a little taken aback."

Frese and the Terps aren't flying under the radar anymore as they enjoy one of their best seasons in more than a decade.

Maryland is 17-5 (6-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) and enjoying its best start since the 1992-93 squad went 17-4 in its first 21 games. The Terps are ranked No. 19 and were as high as No. 15 after upsetting then-No. 5 North Carolina, 92-77, on Jan. 9.

Success on the court has reaped rewards off it. After assembling the nation's No. 10 recruiting class two years ago and the No. 2 crop last season, Maryland's incoming class is ranked fourth in the country by the Blue Star Report.

Average attendance of 3,336 after 11 home games is 105 percent above last year's total over the same span. Maryland, which had 38,759 in attendance for 15 home games last year, already has drawn 40,029 this season.

The Terps have been running a "Cram Comcast" promotion leading up to tomorrow's 3 p.m. game against No. 3 Duke (22-2, 8-1) on ESPN2. The campaign, geared to help the team draw a crowd that would break the all-time ACC women's basketball attendance record of 14,500 set in 1992 when Maryland played Virginia at Cole Field House, has apparently worked. Maryland has already distributed 15,000 tickets.

Season ticket sales have increased by 22 percent from last season, and 96 courtside seats have been sold out since early January.

Big ambitions

A university-produced, 13-episode reality show, Maryland Women's Basketball: Under the Shell, is broadcast nationally by two cable networks and locally on Comcast SportsNet.

Maryland has emerged as a team eager to join Tennessee, Connecticut and the Blue Devils as one of the nation's elite women's basketball programs.

"I think they're a program to watch," said Susan Donohoe, the NCAA's vice president for Division I women's basketball.

The governing body of college athletics selected the 17,950-seat Comcast Center as one of eight host sites for first- and second-round NCAA tournament play.

The Terps have drunk from the well of success before. Under former coach Chris Weller, Maryland appeared in three Final Fours (two in the NCAA and one in the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women), earned 10 NCAA tournament invitations in 12 years and captured an unprecedented eight straight ACC titles.

But after the 1992-1993 season ended with the 22-8 squad getting knocked out in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Terps earned just two more NCAA tournament invitations before Weller retired after the 2001-02 season.

In stepped Frese, a three-year starter at the University of Arizona who had turned Ball State and Minnesota into winning programs.

When she came to Maryland, Frese inherited a team that had graduated five seniors (three were starters) and lacked confidence.

"It was a team that really had a lot of inexperience in terms of players that had started or played in major roles," said Frese, who signed a six-year extension in July.

"And it was a team that hadn't been to the NCAA tournament in a while and hadn't had many winning seasons. I would definitely tab it as rebuilding a program and as probably one of the biggest I ever undertook."

Frese went to work immediately, sometimes spending Sunday afternoons during the summer at the office scouring the country for recruits who could help return the Terps to glory and devising plays to emphasize her players' strengths.

In her third season, Frese has turned Maryland's fortunes around - the team is 45-36 on her watch - and fans are beginning to take notice.

`Lots of new tricks'

Kayla Cyr, a 10-year-old from Beltsville, and three friends recently watched the Terps defeat Georgia Tech.

"We know that they're very good," the fifth-grader said. "Watching them helps us learn how to play the sport better. It teaches us lots of new tricks and stuff."

At the other end of the age spectrum, 64-year-old Ed Roberts of Kingsville brought 67-year-old Carl Dannenfelser of Perry Hall to his first women's game of the year.

"I'm getting more excited about coming and watching them play and cheering them on," said Roberts, who has attended five women's games this season. "You want to see them do well, and I think they will."

While students have yet to flock to the women's games like they do the men's contests, a group of about 20 has attended every home game and informally calls itself "Brenda's Bullies."

Evan Millar, who covers the team for The Diamondback, the campus newspaper, said the women's games appeal to hardcore basketball enthusiasts.

"I think you get more actual basketball fans for the women's games," the senior said. "For the men's, sometimes you get some freshmen who just go because that's the thing to do. The women play a game where, if you slow it down and you're just learning the game, you can learn it better."

Said athletic director Deborah A. Yow: "It's about getting [the fans] there. We're convinced that once people see this team play, they're going to walk away impressed and say, `This is just good basketball that happens to be played by women, and boy, can they shoot the three [-pointer].' "

Maryland vs. Duke

Women's game

Matchup: No. 3 Duke (22-2, 8-1) vs. No. 19 Maryland (17-5, 6-4)

Site: Comcast Center, College Park

When: Tomorrow, 3 p.m.

TV: ESPN2

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