Tuesday, December 18, 2007 Updated: December 21, 10:08 PM ET
Terps, Frese playing for two this season
By Mechelle Voepel Special to ESPN.com
Maryland coach Brenda Frese got to experience the "joy" of following a game on the Internet -- the way dedicated fans often have to -- when she couldn't accompany the Terps on their November trip to California.
"Excruciating," Frese said, laughing.
Maryland coach Brenda Frese, who led the Terps to the '06 NCAA title, is due to give birth to twins in March.
Safe to say that everyone knows by now that Frese and her husband, Mark Thomas, are expecting twins in March. After consultation with doctors, they decided going to the West Coast last month probably wasn't the best idea. So they were left with monitoring the Web during Maryland's game with UC Santa Barbara and then got to watch the contest with UCLA on television.
In the latter game, the Terps went down by 16 in the second half but still rallied to win. Frese said that Mark was "yelling and cheering." But she was pretty quiet, sitting on the couch, digesting the action from such a radically different viewpoint than she is used to. It was difficult, yes, but
"There's an inner confidence that this team always gives me," she said. "Just because they are tremendous competitors."
The most famous baby story in NCAA women's hoops, of course, is Tennessee coach Pat Summitt leaving Michelle Marciniak's recruiting visit in September 1990 because son Tyler was on the way and she was determined to fly back home to Knoxville, Tenn., to have him.
And sure, there have been other coaches who've had babies during a season; in fact, Arizona State's Charli Turner Thorne is an old pro at that. She has done it three times.
But all things considered -- the Terps won the NCAA title in 2006 and are contenders again with a team of stars; Frese is such a big personality in the game; there's so much more visibility for the sport now; the due date is March 11 -- this might be the most anticipated delivery in NCAA women's hoops history.
Kind of this sport's version of the famous "I Love Lucy" episode when Little Ricky was born. We'll hope for Frese's sake there won't be that many hijinks getting her to hospital. Although that would make for great video.
Terps junior standout Marissa Coleman acknowledged earlier this season that it was odd not having Frese standing on the sidelines, being her usual vocal, encouraging, instructing self. Carrying the twins and dealing with some painful back issues, Frese sits during games. She now seems more like a chess master.
Assistant Daron Park, in his first season with Frese, gets to do the standing and yelling. When Jeff Walz departed to take over at Louisville after last season, Park left Utah and came to Maryland.
"He didn't know what he was getting into," Frese chuckled.
Coleman also said that after the twins arrive, maybe they'll get to help the Terps cut down some nets in the postseason. Hearing that, teammate Laura Harper cracked up at the image of infants wielding scissors but
Hey, knowing Frese, she just might have the kind of babies who could climb a ladder and sever twine when they were a month old. By next season, they'll be breaking down game film.
Turner Thorne, whose Sun Devils played in the State Farm Tipoff Classic along with Maryland in November, offered some good news to Frese.
"Babies travel great. They are easy," Turner Thorne said. "The hum of the airplane puts them to sleep, and you can take them anywhere. But when they are toddlers look out."
Frese, of course, has gotten used to talking a lot about the pregnancy and the logistical issues of when the babies will come, how long she might be out, and if she might have to miss more games before the births. Discussing all this goes with the territory.
However, she seemed excited the other day just to talk about her team. The Terps aren't babies but a grown-up group that has been through a national championship and the difficulty/disappointment of trying to repeat as champions. The core of the team is still together for another chance at winning it all, and Frese threw just about all she possibly could at the Terps in the first month of this season.
Maryland played 14 games in 31 days. The Terps beat Oklahoma in the Tipoff Classic, won the Preseason WNIT (beating Notre Dame and LSU in the process), made the trip out west for two victories, and beat Ohio State. Then they suffered their only loss thus far, at Rutgers.
Maryland defeated Temple on Dec. 9, and since then the Terps finally have had a chance to catch their breath, take final exams and focus on practice. They'll play again on Thursday at James Madison.
Such scheduling was a good answer to criticism that the Terps didn't have enough nonconference marquee matchups last season, when they were the reigning NCAA champs. Maryland's schedule this season is more appealing to followers of the game, and Frese likes it, too.
Not only because it should help the Terps when March rolls around, but also because it helps them be more visible before league play.
"We have a great television package in the ACC -- but people wouldn't really see us on television until January," Frese said. "To get that preseason exposure -- those were opportunities we didn't want to pass by. And those are the games our kids want to play in. These kids love getting ready for those opponents."
And women's basketball needs its top programs -- not just Tennessee -- to do this for the overall growth of the sport. Men's programs, spurred by the enticement of television, have long given us compelling nonconference matchups in November and December that whet everyone's appetite for March.
It's great to see that happening more on the women's side in recent years -- especially with teams where we are all so familiar with their players. We've watched the Terps grow up.
This break from game action has allowed Frese and her staff to work on the things that they've diagnosed as weaknesses -- in spite of the Terps' 13-1 record.
"It may sound crazy -- because we're very fundamentally sound on the offensive end -- but there's been game slippage in terms of execution," Frese said. "We have to work at setting better screens, for one thing. Defensively, we're further ahead than we were a year ago, but at the same time there are new wrinkles we can add and areas we'd like to defend that we haven't been able to because we didn't have time to work on it in practice."
Senior post Crystal Langhorne is closer to being 100 percent, having played in only eight of Maryland's games because of a nagging ankle injury. Fellow senior Jade Perry has been her usual dependable self, battling in the paint and helping fill in the gaps there.
Senior Harper and junior Coleman have been terrific, as expected. Freshman Marah Strickland has started every game and looks to be the Terps' star-in-development.
And while it's not a surprise, point guard Kristi Toliver's excellent season so far is particularly nice to see because she had some difficulties at the end of last season. Frese opted to bring Toliver off the bench during the NCAA Tournament, which lasted only two games for the Terps.
Some players might have carried the disappointment from the season's end into the summer or even into this season. Certainly, everyone was watching to see how Toliver would respond.
The answer? She's averaging a team-high 17.5 points and shooting 50.6 percent from the field, including 48.5 percent (33 of 68) from behind the arc. Toliver has 111 assists to 60 turnovers.
"It says a lot about Kristi," Frese said. "She had difficult choices to make over the summer. She was invited to go try out for USA Basketball. And although that's great, she really felt like she needed the time to herself and work. She went to the Point Guard College and really developed some consistency patterns. The maturity level and consistency level she's playing at now is exciting to see and speaks volumes to what she did in the offseason."
Toliver and the rest of the Terps didn't know back then that they would have to carry a little more "weight" in games and in practice this season while Frese was carrying twins. But now they're all in this wonderful endeavor together.
"I'm lucky to have the support staff I have in place, with the administration and my coaching staff," Frese said. "And to have these players. They've really taken a tremendous amount of ownership that this is their team, and they're plugging along every single day -- with or without their head coach. They truly understand the big picture of what this is about."
Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.