UMKC head coach Marsha Frese on supporting her sibling, Maryland’s Brenda Frese, in the Final Four

UMKC head coach Marsha Frese. Photo: UMKC Athletics/MSH Photography
UMKC head coach Marsha Frese. Photo: UMKC Athletics/MSH Photography

For the majority of the over 300 NCAA Division I coaches, the odds of reaching the Final Four more than once are slim. It is even rarer when two of the coaches in the penultimate stage of the national championship have siblings also serving as head coaches of NCAA basketball teams. This year, the two underdogs in the Four Four, No. 2 Stanford and No. 4 Maryland, provide the tournament with this rare combination. Maryland’s Brenda Frese is the older sister of University of Missouri–Kansas City head coach Marsha Frese while Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer is the older sister of Division II University California, San Diego head coach Heidi VanDerveer. The families of both coaches are in Nashville and, in the midst of frenzied activity, UMKC’s Frese took some time to talk with Hoopfeed before heading out to dinner with her extended family. She discussed being the sibling of one of the most successful coaches in top-tier women’s basketball.

In her second season at UMKC, the younger Frese is accomplished in her own right. The 17-year coaching veteran, known for stellar recruiting, brings in top talent to bolster programs. She worked under her sister as a recruiting coordinator for Maryland when Brenda first took over the helm for the Terrapins. In addition to Brenda, she has three more sisters and a brother.

On the large number of Frese family members traveling during the tournament and being in Nashville

We were all down in Louisville and as soon as they won, everyone went back home, picked up their spouses and all of their kids and headed down to Nashville. So, I don’t even know what the count is. We’ll find out in a couple of hours.

This is the second time around and we’re all enjoying it more from the standpoint of whatever happens, happens. You work as hard as you can in your life, in whatever chosen profession you’re in and you know you just realize just how special these moments are. You know we’re all getting older, our parents are getting older and all of our siblings are getting older. You just realize you’ve got to appreciate it when those moments come. We’ve always been a very close knit family, each other’s biggest fans, biggest advocates and biggest source of competition through the years. You know I think that’s what we’ve always valued about our family, we’re here for each other to make each other better and support each other in great moments like this in our personal and professional lives.

On the advantage of having a sibling in the coaching profession

You know I spent the first five years of my professional career working for her. And my first day as an assistant coach was her first day as a head coach. I had such a unique vantage point to look and learn what it takes to build a program, run a program, pros and cons, good and bad. Without question, you’re never prepared to be a head coach but I felt like I was as prepared as I ever could be because I watched her go through it. I watched her success, I watched her fail. I’ve watched the mistakes she’s made and admitted to. I had a lot of insight into that.

As a head coach I think you’re always appreciative when you can bounce things off people. But knowing that I can pick up the phone, and we talk very frequently during the season, to bounce things off a national championship-level coach, you know sometimes it just kind of blows my mind, the access I have, the advantages I have to build my own program and try to have success in this profession as well.

We’ve got a lot of things that we’re very similar in, what we look for in players and things like that. It was always easy to recruit for her because I knew exactly what she wanted because it was something that I looked for even with my own kids. We do have different personalities. I’m a little more creative at times and she’s a little more direct on some things. So it is great. She’s got great ideas. I’ve got a younger staff around me than she does which, sometimes what you get with that is great new ideas and willingness to share with each other. It’s fun to know that sometimes the things that we’re doing at UMKC, I know they’re doing at the University of Maryland. I think it gives us not only credibility with our own players but with the recruits that we’re bringing in and the people around the program. We know what it looks like on a high level and try to translate it somewhat to how it would work for us at the level that Kansas City is.

How her experiences at Maryland inspires UMKC players

There’s always built-in credibility there. I think even last year we went out to Maryland on our way to a tournament and had practice on their home court. Maryland came in right after us and had shootaround so we got to stick around for most of her shootaround and I think it was real eye opening to the girls that our shootaround mirrored a lot of what Maryland did. Obviously, that’s who I learned from. You know I could hear them talking behind me in the stands a little bit. It was a fun moment for them to realize, “wow, we’re doing some of the same stuff that a top five team is doing every single day.” Obviously I’m very lucky and thankful that I get those opportunities you know even going into closed door practices during NCAA tournaments. I just think the opportunities and exposure that I get in my day-to-day profession is just something that will hopefully benefit my own program in the future.

On the legacy of coaching families

Brenda worked for Debbie Yow. You know, the Yow sisters and all that they have meant for women’s basketball. Seeing that up close and personal with Debbie and how much she supported women’s basketball, huge in the game and obviously. All of the Yow sisters have meant so much to the game. I think anyone who shares that relationship realizes how much work it is, how much sacrifice it is and is just supportive of other women in the game especially those who share that sibling bond when they go through it as well.

On the Frese family handling the acute lymphoblastic leukemia diagnosis of Brenda’s son Tyler when he was 2.5 in 2010 and the ending of his chemotherapy treatments

I think all along Brenda’s attitude really made it easier for all of us. She’s always been very positive and you know when we face problems in our family, it’s always “let’s just face them straight on and we’re going to make the best of a bad situation.”….The day he was diagnosed, we kind of got punched in the stomach that day. As Brenda moved forward, as Mark (Brenda’s husband) moved forward, it was all positive, just “we’re going to beat this,” “we’re going to fight this.”

On Tyler

He is so fun to be around. His spirit is just like Brenda. He’s a happy little boy, kind of likes to be the center of attention sometimes and plays games. You see when you’re so young and you go through a trauma like that, it never impacted his spirit. You’re really amazed and really can learn something from somebody so young, It’s just amazing to see him now, he’s just a positive resilient little boy…You look at your life and you think, wow, why wouldn’t you live that way? It’s been as positive experience as you can have.

Maryland (28-6) faces undefeated and No. 1 seed Notre Dame (36-0) Sunday evening, 6:30 p.m. ET (ESPN), in the first game of the tournament semifinals.

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