Goestenkors' stock is sky-high

Duke coach wins respect of peers, players, finds peace in pursuit of title

Ncaa Women's Final

April 04, 2006|By EDWARD LEE | EDWARD LEE,SUN REPORTER

BOSTON -- A day after Brenda Frese was hired to head the Maryland women's basketball program in April 2002, Frese found a message on her voice mail.

The caller was Duke coach Gail Goestenkors, who congratulated Frese on her new job and expressed concern that Goestenkors wouldn't be able to mine the Maryland-Washington area for recruits as she had done so easily in the past.

"To be a coach in your same conference and to extend out like that really talks about the amount of character and class that she has," said Frese, whose Terps will meet Duke for the national championship tonight at 8:30 at TD Banknorth Garden. "I just think that she's first class all the way."

Frese's voice is one of many that hold Goestenkors in high regard not only for the success she has achieved in 14 years with the Blue Devils (a record of 364-96 for a .791 winning percentage, 12 consecutive invitations to the NCAA tournament and four Final Four appearances since 1999), but also for the way she has carried herself despite not having won a national title.

During yesterday's session with the media, several reporters tried to elicit even one iota of a gnawing desire to capture the national championship, but Goestenkors deflected each question with her usual charm and candor.

Afterward, she admitted that the absence of a sense of urgency felt strange.

"It's not that I'm any less passionate about it, but I just don't feel desperate for it. That's truly how I feel," Goestenkors said. "I think I went to that point [when the team went to the Final Four in 1999, 2003 and 2004], and it wasn't a good feeling. And when it didn't happen, I had to deal with all of the depression that goes along with feeling like you were so close. So I've just let that all go, and it's a much happier life."

In some respects, Goestenkors' path is remarkably similar to the one men's coach Mike Krzyzewski traveled. Krzyzewski took Duke to four Final Fours before the team defeated Kansas in the tournament final in 1991.

Like her male counterpart with the Blue Devils, Goestenkors has focued on teaching the fundamentals to her players. Maryland freshman forward Marissa Coleman played for Goestenkors on the USA Under-19 Basketball team that won the gold medal at the FIBA Under-19 World Championship last summer.

"We were blowing teams out by 50 and she was still getting on us about little things," said Coleman, who was joined by sophomore center Crystal Langhorne on that Under-19 squad. "She's not satisfied with just winning games. She wants the little things to be right. She's a great competitor."

Goestenkors isn't all business, though. When Duke needed overtime to defeat Connecticut in the Bridgeport Regional final, Goestenkors jokingly accused her players of extending the game to an extra period for the sole purpose of padding their statistics.

"I feel like the entire season, the team has felt a sense of confidence as a result of her relaxed demeanor," sophomore guard Wanisha Smith said. "In stressful situations, she is always smiling, telling us that everything is going to be OK."

Goestenkors said this season has been different in that she has more weapons at her disposal as she frequently will go nine or 10 deep in games. The program's previous trips to the Final Four were doomed because Goestenkors admitted trying to force wins on those teams and sticking to offensive sets that focused on just one player.

Still, a win tonight would finally put the questions to rest and Goestenkors' mind at ease.

"It would be very satisfying to win," she said. "I think every coach's goal and dream is to win the national title. We're 40 minutes away."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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