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Within months of arriving in College Park, Frese had landed her first McDonald's All-American: Shay Doron, an Israeli citizen who played her final two years of high school ball at powerhouse Christ the King in Queens, N.Y. " Maryland wasn't in my top 500," says Doron. "Then I started getting like 50 letters a day from them. My mailman begged me, 'Come on, go to Maryland!'" During a summer basketball tournament in Washington, D.C., following her junior year, Doron reluctantly made an unofficial visit to the Maryland campus, at her mother's insistence, and met the coaching staff. "I just clicked with them," says Doron. "It helped that Coach B is young. She is easy to relate to."
Frese's first-year team struggled to a 10--18 finish, but with Doron aboard in 2003--04 Maryland improved to 18--13. That was the year Frese brought in the first of four consecutive top five recruiting classes, including Harper and Langhorne, two highly prized Philadelphia-area players who both had been recruited by Connecticut.
Frese's recruiting victories have ruffled feathers in the women's basketball establishment, no doubt in part because, as Fennelly says, "she's extremely confident and she doesn't care what anybody else thinks." There are even whispers about recruiting improprieties, though no formal allegations have ever been made. Last February, NCAA representatives interviewed players about Frese's recruiting practices, but Maryland officials say the interviews were part of a routine process. (The NCAA doesn't comment on whether it is investigating a program.)
Frese says the reason for her success is simple. "We work extremely hard," she says. "My first year at Maryland, I spent more time on the road than I did at practice. I felt I needed to show Crystal Langhorne, Laura Harper, [junior guard] Ashleigh Newman and [junior forward] Jade Perry how much we wanted them here. I make phone calls, and send e-mails and instant messages [to recruits]. Some coaches don't want to do that. If I'm still doing this job in 25 years, I might have the same attitude."
Coleman and her teammates also cite the coach's unflagging confidence in their talent--"I think it's important they feel invincible every time they step on the court," Frese says--and her willingness to incorporate their suggestions into the game plan as reasons they love playing for her. "We have a voice," says Langhorne. "We're treated like adults."
Yet Frese also appeals to her players' inner children: Before they took on undefeated and top-ranked North Carolina last Feb. 9, she pulled out a bag of Starburst candies and passed them out to her players, noting that "each of you are different flavors, but you are all stars." After the Terps beat the Tar Heels 98--95 in overtime, she brought the theme full circle, saying, "You've just burst onto the national scene!"
There'll be no bursting onto the scene this year, and no playing the no-respect card that has served Frese so well. Instead there's a whole new set of challenges ahead. "We're going to get everyone's best game of the season," says Frese. "Can we handle the increased media exposure? Are we hungry enough?"
Not the usual kinds of questions she had to face as a rebuilder. But with the consensus No. 1 preseason ranking, the Terrapins have now become the hares.