The Maryland Terrapins women's basketball team faces to major challenges for the upcoming season. The first, how to replace three time All-American Alyssa Thomas, was inevitable and was one and Frese and her staff, which includes several new faces, had likely thought about from the day the star from Harrisburg first set foot on campus. The second, is the move to a new conference. Goodbye ACC. Hello B1G. Although, this move became public nearly two years ago, given the Terps' run to the Final Four last season, it's likely one that the staff viewed as peripheral. Until now.
Answering the B1G question
After her opening remarks, the first question asked the coach to talk about the move to the Big Ten and what she had done to build a B1G roster. "I think more than anything, we always want to be ready from a national caliber level," Frese said. "I think how we've been able to establish our program to a consistent top ten program and Final Four prepares us for the Big Ten. I think my Big Ten ties growing up in Iowa as well as coaching one season, having followed the league for so many years prepares us in terms of what we're going to see."
Not your mother's B1G
One difference the coach sees between the conferences is that while it may not have as much strength at the top, the B1G is a more balanced, competitive league. "The Big Ten has changed. Now there's a lot more athleticism. You're seeing the blend and the combination of the stereotypical physical play with a more athletic style. I think it's a league that from top to bottom there are no gimmes. Sometimes in our past conference we could go in and think this game was a gimme. I don't think you can say that in the Big Ten," Frese said
Answering the other big question
So, coach, how has the team adjusted to playing without Alyssa Thomas? "Early on, I think our players have adjusted really well but they haven't been in a game setting yet to be under the stress to be able to see what it's like when the shot clock is winding down and to have to produce. This season it will be more by committee and I think any one of them is more than capable." She added later, "We all recognize obviously what Alyssa did for our team and for our program. Some of the players have been waiting for it to be their turn and I think that they are excited that next opportunity and embracing the burden that comes with it of having to show up consistently."
Pressing forward with my most athletic team
In her opening remarks, Frese called her team the most athletic in her 12 years at Maryland. As a result, Maryland fans are likely to see one very different approach from the past. "You're going to see us doing more defensively in terms of using our athleticism, full court press, the ability to be able to trap in the half court, to be able to throw a lot of wrinkles on the defensive end. So you're going to see us change it up that way."
She added later, "We need to utilize our strength. When you talk about our athleticism this year, we definitely want to be able to extend more in the full court and trapping in the half court and use that to our advantage."
The R word
For her career, Alyssa Thomas averaged over nine rebounds per game and almost eleven per game as a senior. And she grabbed rebounds from all over the floor whether planting herself in the low post or swooping in from the wing. In their run to the Final Four last season, it seemed that every time the Terps needed a big rebound, the person corralling the ball was Thomas. How much does that concern Frese? "My biggest question mark about this team is rebounding. It keeps me awake at night. We're going to have to generate a lot more with our team speed. We're going to have to generate more defensively. Brionna Jones is going to be a key player in terms of where our rebounding comes from and right now everything else is up in the air. We've told the team numerous times that whoever can exert themselves on the court in rebounding is going to be on the floor. We're going to have to rebound by committee or knock down a lot of shots or generate a lot of turnovers from our defense."
The coach expects consistency from Brionna Jones and feels that she will have to adjust from game to game getting a collective effort and playing whoever is cleaning the glass effectively.
A young squad
Last season, three freshmen saw considerable playing time and made significant contributions for the Terps. Frese, who has often said that players make their biggest jump in performance between their freshman and sophomore years thinks they were well served by last year's deep NCAA run.
However, like all freshmen, they each showed some inconsistency. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough had a meteoric start and faded a bit toward the end of the season while Lexie Brown and Brionna Jones seemed to grow more effective as the season went on. With Laurin Mincy as the team's only returning senior, Frese will again be looking at her younger players to make major contributions. "All indications right now are that all three will make a mark right away. That was something I spent a lot of time talking to the three of them about last season toward the end about the responsibility that was going to be coming their way."
But she is also bringing in four freshman - three true freshmen and redshirt A'lexus Harrison. Frese is looking for Harrison to have the most immediate impact because of her redshirt year. Said Harrison, "Last year was a really big step for me. I came in with high expectations and had an illness. But that redshirt gave me time to develop my game, develop my skills, and develop myself as a person both on and off the court. I had a great opportunity to get into the system and learn it so I can be prepared to step up when my number is called."
Of the three true freshmen, early on the coach seems to be seeing the most from Kiara Leslie and Kristen Confroy. She sees Confroy as a heady, glue type player who can stretch the floor with her shooting much in the mold of departed senior Katie Rutan. Leslie, a player in whom Frese sees echoes of Alyssa Thomas is further along physically than the 6'3" Ellison. Both players missed their senior seasons in high school due to injury.
The closing argument from the opening statement
Throughout most of her time at Maryland, Frese's teams have been known for their up tempo offense and for being among the best rebounding teams in the country. Maryland fans will certainly see plenty of the former this season. The coach feels she has a team that can score - and score a lot.
To that, Frese and her staff appear to be poised to add an up tempo, pressing defense. If the Terps can successfully integrate this into their games, fans should be in for a an exciting brand of basketball.
As far as rebounding is concerned, she is clearly taking a wait and see attitude. Outside of the inside presence of Brionna Jones, Frese expects the Terps to rebound by committee and she stressed several time that players who are rebounding are likely to spend the most time on the floor.
In her opening statement, the coach talked about her team, "One thing I want to share with you about this team I think they're extremely motivated, really humble, really hungry in the sense that they aren't satisfied in terms of where their season ended and they want to be able to take it further. Each and every one has had phenomenal summers. Each one has improved and with the challenge of losing a three time All-American, the all-time leading record holder here in women's basketball they were going to have to improve."
She also recognizes there are still more steps to take, "Obviously, there's one more jump to make when you talk about our performance in the Final Four. It left a sting in terms of how we performed. Obviously, when you look at the dominance of UConn, there's still another level to get to."
The quest to reach that next level begins in earnest in just over three weeks on Friday, November, 14 when Maryland opens their season hosting Mount St. Mary's.