INDIANAPOLIS – Maryland's Brenda Frese reached the pinnacle of her sport with multiple Final Fours and an NCAA women's basketball title in 2006 to her credit, but Thursday was still "huge" for the championship coach and her peers.

The Big Ten decision to host all 28 men's and women's programs together at media days meant equal exposure on the biggest stage for the conference going into the season.

"We're in 2021," Frese said standing at the podium in front of hundreds of media at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. "So, to finally see the needle being moved with these young women, just as I grew up and had the same dream … has been extremely special."

Frese, whose Terrapins won the Big Ten last season, joined seven women's coaches Thursday boasting about the strength of their league, which produced four Sweet 16 teams last season and returns seven All-America players.

"For the amount of time these student-athletes put in, to finally see the exposure," Frese said, "to see the [equality] for both genders, it's a huge moment in our time."

Big Ten media day for women's programs in past years often meant only conference calls. Coaches and players in the arena Thursday embraced a chance to better promote their teams and the women's game during the first of two days of lengthy in-person interviews.

"I'm grateful that we have a leader in the Big Ten Conference that understands the importance of that," Nebraska coach Amy Williams said about commissioner Kevin Warren. "There was a lot of attention drawn and brought to women's basketball."

Minneapolis dreams

Iowa senior center Monika Czinano has already been talking to family members about coming back to her home state for the Final Four in Minneapolis this season. That's the goal.

Czinano, who is from Watertown, helped to lead the Hawkeyes to the Sweet 16 last season before losing to Connecticut. Her sister, Maggie, is a freshman guard for the Gophers.

"We're not afraid to talk about it in my house," Czinano said. "That's where we're aiming to go. I'm a believer in manifesting, speaking it into existence."

Frese, who coached the Gophers in the 2002 NCAA tournament, is a real contender to cut down the nets in the state where she first led a Big Ten program.

"I love it," the Maryland coach said. "I grew up in Iowa, so very close for my family and friends, as well. Minnesota has a special place in my heart as well, giving me the opportunity to be able to coach there for a season. I can't think of a better place for the Final Four."

Rutgers' Stringer not with team

Legendary Rutgers women's coach C. Vivian Stringer didn't attend Thursday's festivities while taking time away from the team because of COVID-19 concerns.

Stringer, 73, was replaced by associate head coach Tim Eatman, who also took over the Scarlet Knights for the final seven games of the 2018-19 season when Stringer took a leave of absence because of exhaustion.

"We understand that she's trying to find a way through this pandemic," Eatman said. "Whether it's tomorrow, whether it's next month, or whether it's for the first game, Coach has an opportunity to do what she needs to do because she knows she has a staff at home that's going to take care of business."