On Feb. 14, Maryland women’s basketball head coach Brenda Frese became the all-time winningest coach in Maryland basketball history after the Terps won at Nebraska, 95-73. It’s just the latest milestone in a Hall of Fame career. Whenever Frese decides to walk away from the job, there will be a well-deserved sendoff where her name goes into the rafters surrounded by former players. But Maryland shouldn’t stop there. Her name should be added next to that of Gary Williams on the Xfinity Center court.
Williams and Frese are synonymous with their respective teams, restoring once proud programs and elevating them to new heights throughout their respective coaching careers.
When Williams took over in 1989, Maryland was still reeling from the death of Len Bias, and Bob Wade sandwiched an NCAA tournament bid around two of the worst seasons in program history. After Williams’ first season, the NCAA gave Maryland a harsh penalty for violations from the Wade era, including a postseason ban for 1991 and 1992, no games on television in 1990-91, and loss of scholarships. Williams weathered through the storm, breaking through with a Sweet Sixteen in 1994. After several very good teams came up short, he led Maryland to its first ever Final Four in 2001, followed by the 2002 National Championship.
Though the women’s team didn’t have the same NCAA issues, it was in a similar stance competitively when Frese took over. Chris Weller had won 499 games over the previous 27 seasons, though the bulk of those wins came early in her tenure. From 1975-76 to 1992-93, Maryland went 375-153, went to two Final Fours, won four ACC regular season titles and eight ACC tournament titles. From 1993-94 to 2001-02, the Terps went just 124-133 and only made the NCAA tournament twice, losing in the first round both years.
Frese’s Maryland tenure got off to a rocky start with a 10-18 record her first season. But like her previous head coaching stints at Ball State and Minnesota, Frese’s teams quickly got better. The Terps made the NCAA Tournament each of the next two seasons, losing in the second round both times. In just year four, Maryland won the 2006 National Championship with no seniors in the starting lineup.
Since the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament began in 1982, only three teams have missed the NCAA Tournament and won the national championship three years later. Of those three schools, Frese is the only one to miss the NCAA Tournament in her first year at a school and win a national title by year four.
Though Frese hasn’t won another national championship, Maryland continues to win at a high level. The team has won at least 20 games over the last 14 seasons, making the NCAA Tournament in every year but one. Maryland has been in the AP Top 25 for 206 consecutive weeks, the third longest streak in the country behind only UConn and Baylor.
After falling short in the Elite Eight in 2008, 2009 and 2012, the Terps returned to the Final Four with back-to-back appearances in 2014 and 2015. With that postseason success, she has the edge over Williams in NCAA Tournament appearances (15-14), as well as Final Fours (3-2), Elite Eights (6-2) and Sweet Sixteens (8-7). And the team has a real chance to make a deep run in the postseason this year.
Frese has also kept the program chugging along despite moving to the Big Ten before the 2014-15 season. The Terps have gone an astounding 102-13 in regular season games since joining the conference, forcing teams to catch up to a team that moved in from an ACC that was far superior at the time. The Terps’ addition to the Big Ten has forced other teams to elevate their level of play, with the conference boasting five teams in the latest poll. That should only make the team more prepared for the NCAA Tournament going forward.
Frese wants her Maryland teams to play by three words: defend, rebound and run. With more roster turnover than usual in recent years, Frese has had to fine tune her approach, adjusting to fit her personnel while still fitting the tenets of the program. Last year, Maryland made a dramatic defensive switch, going from man-to-man to a switch heavy scheme. Despite some early bumps in the road, the Terps finished last season on a 17-game win streak and were in position to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament before it was cancelled due to COVID-19.
This year, after losing all five starters due to graduation or transfer, Maryland is the highest scoring team in the country and sits atop the Big Ten. Even after losing five-star freshman Angel Reese and guard Channise Lewis to injury, Maryland is on pace to make waves in the NCAA Tournament after making huge defensive strides as of late. In a year where expectations are lower than usual, Maryland has still put out its typically entertaining product — they way the Terps play this year is just mesmerizing. That’s created a loyal, albeit way smaller than it should be, fanbase.
When asked about closing in on Weller’s record, Frese was quick to give credit to the players, saying she hasn’t won any of those games. I’m sure if they offered to put her name on the court, she’d be modest again.
But the results speak for itself. Like Williams, Frese revived a historically successful program and has continued to operate at a higher level than Williams did. Adding her name to the court is quite simply the right thing to do.