There is not much Brenda Frese hasn’t seen in her 18 years as the head coach of the Maryland women’s basketball program.
Her days this spring are 100% different than what they would normally be this time of year thanks to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“A lot more family time for sure," Frese said. "The fact that I wake up every morning and it starts with my twin boys that are 12 years old. Getting them acclimated and prepared for the work that they have to do school wise and in preparation for their classes and homework. Then I’m able to transition to my day and all the Zoom calls.”
This interview was already the fourth call of Frese's day when we started at 1 p.m. late last month. While Frese says she’s not complaining about the family time, she jokes that perhaps her kids have had enough.
“I realized they needed more life skills. So cooking, cleaning, the dishwasher, trash duty, you name it," Frese laughed. "I’m sure they probably are ready for me to go back to work from that end.”
Balancing being a mom and head coach with players who have needs, too, during quarantine is far from easy, Frese makes sure to find alone time and work out. Both are important practices during her day. There's a lot to juggle at times like this.
It’s also afforded a lot of time to accept the abrupt ending to a season in which Maryland finished ranked No. 4 in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll. Frese says she can find peace in the cancellation of the NCAA tournament because one of the Terrapins' lasting memories was cutting down the nets after winning the Big Ten Tournament in March. But it’s also natural to wonder what could have been.
“We had one heck of a year, we finished 28-4, we were on a 17-game win streak and we were on to be a number-one seed," Frese said. "We had a phenomenal shot to get to a Final Four and maybe beyond, but we’ll never know. We did get to bring closure and win the Big Ten championship.”
Whenever next season does begin, the Terps will look much different. All five starters have left the program either by going to the WNBA, graduation, or transfers.
Forward Shakira Austin committed to Mississippi, guard Taylor Mikesell left for Oregon and even reserve center Olivia Owens entered the transfer portal.
“Obviously it’s tough, unfortunately it’s our new reality," Frese said. "I say that change is inevitable, just like when we left the ACC to go to the Big Ten, it was uncomfortable. But it's worked out pretty well for us. The transfer portal now in our women's game is a reality. There's over 550 transfers.”
That's a staggering number of transfers across the sport. All are for different reasons, both personal and for new opportunities on the court for players. Frese gets it.
"But at the end of the day, we have to take care of Maryland and our program," Frese said.
Maryland quickly transitioned to building next year’s roster. Guard Katie Benzan has transferred from Harvard and forward-guard Chloe Bibby from Mississippi Sate. Guard Taisiya “Tai” Kozlova has committed out of Elevation Prep Academy in Florida and the No. 2 overall recruit, Angel Reese from St. Frances, joins the freshman class. Reese’s brother, Julian, recently committed to play for Mark Turgeon, making that announcement on Mothers Day in an Instagram post.
“I think the most challenging part of it is, you want to start developing that chemistry," Frese said. "Our freshman class is so talented, they showed that on their finish of the Big Ten Tournament. They’re going to take a huge step with their leadership role. But then it’s adding the influx of great talent that that we’re bringing in so you’re wanting to get that chemistry developed.”
In hopes of doing just that Frese and her staff have been forced to get creative in their daily and weekly communication with the players. They use Zoom calls, group text messages, and FaceTime.
However, only so much can be learned virtually and it’s entirely changed the way Frese approaches coaching.
“I am very hands-on and face-to-face, and can read a room really well,” Frese said.
Until she and her players are back together again, Frese says it’s about taking it one day at a time. Frese firmly believes amidst these challenging days - and the changes to their roster - that they will still be competing for championships yet again.
“I think that's the most important thing is - one, you learn a lot about yourself," Frese said. "I think you learn that it's okay at times to have moments where you can be alone and know you're going to survive, and you can learn so much about yourself personally that maybe you didn’t know before. And then we kind of have a quote, and we’re living it. It’s “Be comfortable, being uncomfortable” and my goodness, if you're not uncomfortable right now. But a lot of times that’s when you have the biggest growth.”
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