COLLEGE PARK — — When the women's basketball team was introduced at Maryland Madness in mid-October, one member of the program received by far the loudest ovation from the crowd at Comcast Center. When the spotlight focused on Brenda Frese, fans rose to their feet and cheered loudly for the eighth-year Terrapins coach.
Frese is the one constant for the Terps, who are in the midst of a transition. She is the program's lone remaining link to the 2006 NCAA championship team after the graduation of Kristi Toliver and Marissa Coleman and the offseason departure of longtime assistant Erica Floyd.
Frese's staff has two new assistant coaches, and her team has six players who have yet to appear in a regular-season Maryland game. Two players (starting guard Marah Strickland, a former Towson Catholic star, and reserve forward Drey Mingo) transferred during the offseason, and a third (starting forward Dee Liles) was dismissed for academic reasons, draining the Terrapins of experience.
Only one starter - sophomore center Lynetta Kizer, the Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year - remains from last season's squad, which finished 31-5 and lost in an NCAA regional final for the second straight year. For the first time since the 2003-04 season, Frese's second at Maryland, the Terrapins are not ranked in the preseason Associated Press poll.
"There are going to be a lot of question marks this season," said Frese, whose team has nine freshmen and sophomores. "We are very unproven."
Over the past four seasons, the Terrapins have proved to be among the nation's best. They won more games (126) than any team in the country other than Connecticut (139) and North Carolina (128), and they won a national title in 2006 and swept the ACC regular season and tournament titles in 2009. All five starters from the national championship team were eventually drafted by the WNBA - four went in the first round - and had their jerseys raised to the Comcast Center rafters.
That kind of success is what drew the current players to Maryland. But as first-year assistant David Adkins reminded them at the end of a practice last month, Frese "is the one that did that. No one else here did that," he said, pointing to the national championship banner.
Frese is known as an ace recruiter, and the Terrapins will see an influx of young talent over the next two seasons. This year's freshman class includes an All-Met (forward Tianna Hawkins from Riverdale Baptist), a McDonald's All-American (guard Dara Taylor) and a French youth national team player (forward Diandra Tchatchouang), and next year's is considered to be among the best in the country, with oral commitments from five players who are ranked in the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100.
But Frese's challenge is finding a way to retain and develop that talent. One of the reasons she hired Adkins, a former boys basketball assistant at Montrose Christian and DeMatha, is his ability to develop individual skills. She says Adkins, who has trained Coleman and current Maryland men's star Greivis Vasquez, is "the best we've ever had in terms of breaking things down."
At a recent practice, Frese stood at center court and watched as Adkins worked with the perimeter players on a variety of midrange jump shots.
"Obviously, when you have a veteran team, things run like a well-oiled machine," Frese said. "Now there's a lot of simple things that you're having to teach: how to set a screen, how to read a screen, how to read how you're being played. I think it's invigorating."
But there are challenges. At one of Maryland's first practices, Frese hoped to install two basic offensive plays; it took so long to teach the first one, however, that she didn't have time to add the second. Because the team has only 10 players - and redshirt sophomore guard Kim Rodgers is limited in practice as she recovers from offseason knee surgery - the Terrapins have to rely heavily on their male scout-team players to prepare them.
"For us as coaches, it's fun trying to figure out who you're running sets for, who's your best [option] with the shot clock winding down, who's your best inbounder," Frese said. "We're constantly learning and we'll be learning throughout the season.
"I still remember how it unfolded" during the 2005-06 season, Frese said. "I remember early on in the Virgin Islands, when we played Tennessee that year, we ran a play for our vet, which was Shay Doron. Well, by the end of the year, we ran that play for Kristi Toliver in the championship game. That's kind of how your team evolves. I really enjoy that part of the process, just seeing what kids want that kind of pressure."
14: North Carolina Central, 7
16: New Hampshire, 7
19: Old Dominion, 7
22: at Mississippi State, 3
24: Samford, 7
27: Howard, 7
29: Drexel, 2
3: Minnesota, 7
6: Loyola (Md.), 2
10: at Towson, 7
20: at American, 2
27: Stony Brook, 6
29: UNC Wilmington, 7
3: Saint Joseph's, 2
7: at North Carolina State, 7