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Through Tears, Maryland, Frese Aim For Title

University of Maryland logo on roundabout
John Alexis Guerra Gómez
University of Maryland logo on roundabout

At the end of a trying year, Brenda Frese hopes for a title.

A songwriter of fairly recent vintage noted that tears are wasted water that don’t make flowers grow.

While lachrymal fluid isn’t advisable for plant life, it’s hardly useless. Under the right circumstances, crying says much more than mere words ever could.

Take Maryland women’s basketball coach Brenda Frese, for instance. Her tears in the wake of the Terps’ victory over Iowa in Saturday’s Big Ten tournament championship game spoke volumes about a journey that may still have a ways to go.

Just after the horn sounded in Indianapolis to mark the close of Maryland’s stunning run through one of the nation’s top college conferences, Frese broke down and struggled to regain her composure in a nationally televised interview.

Her tears were understandable, given the path she and her team have traveled.

Like the rest of the country, Frese saw her world come to a screeching halt at this time last March. The Terps had just won the Big Ten tournament and appeared headed to a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

That is, before the curtain came down on athletics of every fashion in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The NCAA tournament was cancelled and with it went the chance for Maryland to win a national championship.

Of course, any talk of disappointment over a missed opportunity in an athletic sense pales in comparison to the loss of over a half million souls to the coronavirus.

That said, the Maryland program did go through rather challenging athletic times. Six players either graduated or transferred from College Park, leaving Frese with few experienced options on her roster.

Frese, who in 19 years at Maryland has become known as a superior recruiter, added three transfer players of her own from Harvard, Tennessee and Australia, by way of Mississippi State.

Once the season began, the Terps had to deal with an injury to Angel Reese, a gifted recruit from Baltimore’s Saint Frances Academy. Reese was rated the second-best incoming freshman in the nation and was expected to be a focus of the Maryland attack.

Instead, Reese missed three months with a fracture in her right leg. Rather than retreat into a shell, the Terps emerged as one of college basketball’s most entertaining units.

They lead the nation in scoring and have won 13 straight games in one of the toughest leagues in the sport. During that span, they have defeated each opponent by at least 10 points, doing so with unbridled joy. In the process, Frese has been tapped as ESPN’s national coach of the year.

You also get the sense that their elation, beyond just the winning, has been a badly needed balm for Frese, whose father, Bill, has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, which has spread to his bones.

Frese, whose son battled leukemia as a child, has called her father her biggest supporter. Her parents were in Indianapolis Saturday when the Terps won the conference tournament just as he had been last year.

Maryland is likely to be a favorite in the NCAA tournament which opens this week and if they win the title, the second in Frese’s career, the tears that flow will almost certainly have a dual purpose.

And that’s how I see it this week.

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Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.