COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Lured from Minnesota to take over for a coach who won 499 games at Maryland, Brenda Frese endured a miserable inaugural season that featured 18 losses and a one-and-done appearance in the 2003 Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.
Yet as the Terrapins headed home from North Carolina following their final defeat, then-athletic director Debbie Yow knew she made the right choice for the successor to future Hall of Fame coach Chris Weller.
“I was on a plane with them and I heard Brenda say to her coaches: ‘OK, this year is done. If we ever miss the NCAA Tournament again, we’re not doing our jobs,’” Yow recalled this week. “And I thought: ‘OK, all right. That’s not what every coach would say.’”
Given a full year to recruit a new crop of players, Frese rebounded to go 18-13 the following season. That launched a stretch in which the Terrapins went to the NCAA Tournament in 15 of 16 years, winning 21 games during their only miss. They’d have made it last year, too, if the tournament wasn’t canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
With Frese leading the way, Maryland won the national championship in 2006, reached the Final Four three times and became a dominant force in the Big Ten after moving from the ACC in 2014.
Frese stands one victory away from tying Weller for the most wins at Maryland, with No. 499 ripe to be plucked on Thursday when the 10th-ranked Terrapins (12-2, 8-1) host struggling Wisconsin (4-11, 1-11).
“It’s been an incredible journey through all the games and wins,” Frese said. “I’ve kind of grown up and gone through so many things.”
The 50-year-old Frese never imagined this coming after she saw what Weller had accomplished.
“Not when I showed up,” Frese said. “When I came in, I just marveled at the fact that Chris Weller had 499 wins and had been coaching for a very, very long time.”
Weller guided the Terps for 27 seasons. Frese is 498-130 in 18-plus seasons at the school, 555-160 overall, including her two years at Ball State and a one-year stint with Minnesota, where she went 22-8 and was named Big Ten Coach of the Year.
Yow signed Frese the night before the Maryland men’s team won the national championship in 2002. Yow offered an annual salary of $250,000, Minnesota countered with $275,000 and Yow matched it.
It turned out to be money well spent.
“I’m proud of plenty of my hires at Maryland,” said Yow, the AD at Maryland from 1994-2010. “Is Brenda at the top of the list? Yes.”
It bothered Frese that Weller left before reaching 500 career wins, so much that Frese tried to get Weller to coach one more game in that 2002-03 season. The NCAA wouldn’t buy it.
“I thought it was tragic, after all she gave to the game of women’s basketball and Maryland, for her to end at 499,” Frese said. “I knew we weren’t going to have that many wins that season, but I was more than comfortable having that first win go on her record.”
Though it would not happen, Weller appreciated the gesture.
“Brenda was so sweet about wanting me to come back and coach a game,” Weller said this week. “It wasn’t allowed, but I told Brenda: ‘It’s not that important. I don’t really care about 500.’
“How many people stop at 499? I think it’s a statement,” Weller, 76, said with a chuckle.
She’s quite all right having her record broken by Frese, a feisty coach who loves to win but also values the relationship with her players and their development into adulthood.
“It doesn’t matter to me that she wins more. It’s not about her and I, it’s about our student-athletes,” Weller said. “I’m pleased to see that she does things the right way — honestly. Brenda is a complete role model for women’s basketball.”
When she arrived at Maryland, Frese was in awe of what Weller accomplished at the school. That’s what makes breaking her record so special.
“A big reason I took the Maryland job was just watching what she was able to do here in her time. The national prominence, the level that she raised Maryland to, I had the utmost respect for everything she accomplished,” Frese said. “It is pretty surreal to know just how quickly (No. 499) has come up. That’s never been the reason I’ve coached, for wins. When you’re in that journey, records like this happen, and I’m humbled and honored to be following in her footsteps.”
More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25.
Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.