Only best will do

Terps like view on top

with five starters back, they plan to stay there

College Basketball 2006

Maryland Women

November 03, 2006|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,Sun reporter

College Park -- If every fan of the Maryland women's basketball program was thinking it, well, university president C.D. Mote Jr. just came out and used the "D" word.

Standing a few feet from coach Brenda Frese as she and her team celebrated the program's first national title in April, Mote said, "This is, fans, the beginning of a dynasty in women's athletics."

Such are the expectations when you win with two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior in the starting five, have a commitment from the nation's most-touted transfer and are primed to sign another top-five recruiting class.

Frese and her players are learning what it's like to play queens of the mountain in women's college basketball, and they're not shy about saying they like the fit.

"I love it," Frese said of the new bull's-eye on her program. "I'll take this challenge anytime. We've got kids that are easy to challenge and motivate. They're hungry, they work hard, so yeah, if you're a competitor, you like it."

Her players sound, if anything, more confident.

"We have all five of our starters returning so why shouldn't we be able to win again?" mused All-America candidate Crystal Langhorne. "And the year after, we'll be losing one starter. We're very young, so I think we're very capable of winning for two more years."

The Terps women did plenty to solicit affection last season. They vanquished longtime Atlantic Coast Conference nemeses North Carolina and Duke and won a tense game on the biggest stage in their sport. And they proved an interesting and appealing crew in the process.

There was Frese, the dynamic young coach who left a disappointed pack of kids at Minnesota because she thought she could build something special in College Park. There was Shay Doron, the daring Israeli shooting guard who had been Frese's first big recruit to sign. There was Kristi Toliver, the expressive freshman point guard whose overtime three-pointer in the title game gave the team its signature moment.

But as often seems to be the case, all that success raised as many questions as it answered. The first and most obvious is: Can they keep it up?

With all of its significant contributors returning and a flashy transfer from Tennessee in Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood, Maryland is almost every expert's pick as preseason No. 1. Doron is the only senior starter, so it's not hard to imagine the Terps being the preseason pick next year, as well. Frese is assembling a recruiting class that will rank among the best in the country, according to scouts.

"They do have the pieces in place for a dynasty," said ESPN analyst Nancy Lieberman. "Because what they have is experienced youth. And they have a confidence that's not fake."

That doesn't necessarily mean a run to rival those of Tennessee in the 1990s or Connecticut earlier this decade. But the possibility is at least there.

"You've got to dream the dream," said Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow. "Sometimes, the dream can't become a reality until it's put out there."

Frese, Yow team up

Frese was thinking big when she arrived in College Park for the 2002-03 season.

"That's why I came to Maryland, big picture, was to be able to turn around the program and then hopefully, become one of the most dominant programs out there," she said. "And having that opportunity is why I accepted the challenge."

Yow saw in the young coach a perfect program builder. Frese had showed she could attract star players with her drive and informal manner. She had shown she could coach them once they were aboard. And she was enthusiastic about the public speeches and other non-basketball duties that would help spread the word.

Frese, in turn, thought Yow was the perfect boss. Not only had she coached women's ball at Kentucky and Florida, but she said she wanted every one of the school's 27 athletic programs to be in the top 10.

"I was like yeah, someone who gets and understands where we can get to," Frese said. "I thought that was a very exciting challenge from an athletic director."

Yow recalled that when Frese saw the floor from the men's 2002 championship win displayed on a wall at the Comcast Center, she asked if the school would do the same "when" the women won.

"I said yes," the athletic director said, "but I was thinking, `Maybe you should ask me that in about 10 years.'"

Yow wasn't the only one to love Frese's moxie. Lieberman liked the way the young coach could walk into the same gym as Geno Auriemma or Pat Summitt and refuse to take a back seat.

"People don't always like you when you get too good too fast and aren't afraid to tell people you're good," she said. "But I love the attitude Brenda brought to that program."

Frese's program has also leaped forward off-court. Attendance has tripled since the season before Frese arrived and is expected to climb again this year (the season ticket base alone has grown from 2,000 last season to 6,000 this season). Since the title game, the players haven't been able to stroll campus without people staring and murmuring.

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