When Brenda Frese arrived as Minnesota women’s basketball coach in 2001, she inherited a team coming off an 8-20 season.
She turned that around in mere months, guiding the Gophers to a 22-8 record and the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2001-02.
And then she was gone.
Thanks in no small part to talented guard Lindsay Whalen, Frese built the foundation for the Gophers team that advanced to the NCAA Women’s Final Four two seasons later with Pam Borton as coach.
But Frese, then Brenda Oldfield, stuck around for one only season before leaving to coach Maryland, where she won an NCAA championship in 2006 and has compiled a 363-131 record in 12 seasons.
And now, the Terrapins’ debut season in the Big Ten is a homecoming of sorts for Frese, 44, who grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“I know for me personally, being able to come back in the Big Ten, having grown up in Iowa and (knowing) the Big Ten Conference extremely well, having coached at Minnesota for a season, I can’t wait,” she said. “I can’t wait to be able to get back and play against the great competition.”
Frese brings with her a talented Maryland team that reached the Final Four last season — and has made the NCAA tournament in 10 of her 12 seasons as coach.
Gophers guard Rachel Banham was 9 when Frese coached at Minnesota, but she said she has seen Frese and Maryland in action often.
“I can tell she’s a great coach because her program is very successful,” Banham said.
The Terrapins were picked Thursday as the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten in their first go-round in their new league.
“(I have the) utmost respect for her ability and what she’s done at Maryland,” first-year Gophers coach Marlene Stollings said. “I think (in) her short time at Minnesota, she did a good job and many folks probably wanted her to stay a little longer, but she moved on to Maryland and has done great things.”
Frese said she has seen differences in the conference since her departure, most notably in depth.
“When you talk about every team being competitive, that’s really changed from 14 years ago,” Frese said.
The program she left is one that figures to be competitive in the Big Ten, though Minnesota has been flying under the radar a bit.
Frese said she has been tracking the Gophers from afar, and she believes they could be a sleeper team in the conference.
“When you talk about new … coaching style, nobody knows what to expect and so from a scouting end, that will be different,” Frese said of Stollings taking over. “Then when you talk about just having the experience back, I think that’s a huge addition) for Minnesota).”
Frese and her Terrapins will see the Gophers just once during the regular season, Jan. 11 at Williams Arena, and she said she’s excited to be back in Big Ten arenas.
“When you talk about the venues, the fan base, being able to come and play in front of packed crowds is really exciting,” she said.