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UMD: More than a game

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The scope of cancer’s impact goes far beyond the surface. Everyone in a family can suffer and endure hardships. Some are physical, some are mental and some are emotional. Only one person might be sick, but the trickle-down effect is tangible, and it’s nearly impossible to evade its influence.

The Maryland Terrapins women’s basketball team is no different with its connections to cancer

Brenda Frese brushes confetti out of her hair. Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback

“If you went through our team, our players, our coaches, our support staff, everybody has somebody that’s been impacted by cancer in some way or another,” coach Brenda Frese said. “The fact we can go out and play a game but also bring awareness on such a national level is exciting.”

No one knows the impact of cancer on a family than Frese. In September 2010, one of her twin sons, Tyler Thomas, was diagnosed with leukemia at age 2.

From there, everything changed for Frese. It wasn’t just about game planning for the next opponent anymore. It was now about juggling the duties of an even more intense motherhood while also trying to lead one of the nation’s most successful women’s basketball programs.

The Maryland athletics and university community rallied behind Frese as Tyler underwent a series of chemotherapy treatments. Four former Terps players — Marissa Coleman, Laura Harper, Shay Doron and Kristi Toliver — founded the Team Tyler Foundation to raise money for leukemia.

In each of the past two seasons, the Terps have held a Team Tyler Leukemia Awareness Night, and the Terps plan to again this season when Duke visits Comcast Center on Feb. 24.

“It means a lot to continue to bring awareness to those with cancer and have it personally hit home with your own son obviously makes it even more intimate,” Frese said.

Entering Dec. 3’s matchup with No. 2 Connecticut in the Jimmy V Classic, the No. 11 Terps realize they have a huge task at hand in attempting to knock off one the of the nation’s best programs. The two teams have never met, but the Terps are well aware of the UConn program’s prestige. It goes beyond that, though.

“I think the biggest thing for us, it’s not just about a game or just playing a tremendous talented team like UConn, which is exciting, but it’s about so much more,” Frese said. “For us, it’s about the ability to play in that game and continue to bring awareness on a national scale.”

Above all, Frese has the ability to spread awareness of a disease that can have a drastic effect on day-to-day lives. Through basketball, the national champion coach has the ability to reach out to an audience she might not be able to otherwise to tell her story.

“We’re fortunate that we have a medium to be able to do that,” Frese said. “I think it’s critical that we understand as coaches and as teams, it’s not just about our teams. It’s about such a bigger picture. To be able to utilize sports to make a difference in such a better cause I think is pretty special.”

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