As the buzzer sounded Sunday night, signaling the Maryland women’s basketball team’s Big Ten tournament title win over Purdue, confetti rained down from Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
It marked the Terps’ second celebration of the weekend.
Saturday’s 100-89 semifinal triumph over Michigan State was coach Brenda Frese’s 400th win with Maryland, and the team recognized the milestone in the locker room with balloons, cardboard cutouts and an appearance from athletic director Kevin Anderson.
The celebration exemplified the enjoyable, relaxed culture Frese tries to instill in the program, even less than 24 hours before the team played for a conference championship.
“To be reminded by our head coaches [to have fun], it’s really relaxing,” guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough said of Frese’s personality. “Some coaches are uptight, which makes it hard to play like that.”
Had the victory been Frese’s 50th or 100th, the festivities might have been more muted, and not because the feats were less impressive.
“I’ll be the first to admit, when I was young … I had no balance,” the 15th-year coach said. “[It] was a complete to-do list and what’s next, and I had a really hard time in my mind slowing things down in the moment.”
Frese said she’s loosened up since, gaining perspective throughout her life, She started a family and had two kids. She helped her son, Tyler, beat leukemia.
Still, she didn’t make plans to celebrate Saturday despite being told she had 399 wins before the game.
In fact, she was confused after the game when she arrived in the locker room, which the staff members decorated during the second half.
“I had actually forgotten about it,” Frese said. “You get locked into the game. I had walked into the locker room and saw a couple of streamers up top and still didn’t connect it.”
Frese may have realized the accomplishment sooner if her team didn’t stay silent as she entered the room and received the game ball and a hug from Anderson.
“We decided … we were going to act like we didn’t care,” Walker-Kimbrough said, “and then when she started talking, we hit her with balloons.”
Frese didn’t expect the surprise, as she’s usually the one playing pranks on her players. While meeting before practice earlier this season, for example, Frese told her team to change out of their workout gear and meet back in the team’s office. The announcement set off a flurry of celebrations from the players, who thought Frese canceled practice.
When they returned, though, Frese told them to get into the coaching staff’s cars. She said they’d be working on their “out-of-bounds plays.”
Instead, the team went bowling.
“She does make the locker room fun,” guard Ieshia Small said.
That’s truer now than it used to be, Frese said, and the players ensure they don’t lose focus amid the occasional celebration.
“It’s just a mindset thing,” Small said. “After a while, we come back here and we get back to it. We know we have something bigger in our minds.”
After the most-recent festivities, that meant the Terps shifting their focus toward Purdue. Frese was thankful to have something so immediate to move the spotlight away from her.
“If it’s celebrating me, I’d rather, like, let’s not do it,” Frese said. “Full disclosure, I’m not really good at it. I like to move through it and get back to what we’re there for.”
But with all of the jokes and surprises Frese takes part in, some are due to come back in her direction.
And though she wasn’t seeking the attention after her 400th win, she praised her players for their initial silent treatment.
“She said we had personality,” Walker-Kimbrough said. “We were finally a team that had personality.”