After Fairfield University women’s basketball former head coach Joe Frager retired following his 15th and final season with the Stags, the University hired Carly Thibault-DuDonis as their newest head coach of the team.
Thibault-DuDonis, who served as Associate Head Coach and recruiting Director at the University of Minnesota according to the official press release on fairfieldstags.com, has an impressive background in basketball and more specifically finding talented players. Her skillset puts a key emphasis on player development.
Upon her arrival to Fairfield University, Thibault-DuDonis felt the love immediately.
“I guess I’ll start by saying that this is a little bit of a homecoming for me back to Connecticut,” she joked.
Although she was born in the midwest, she grew up in Connecticut, playing for the East Lyme High School women’s basketball team. Additionally, she played AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball in the area.
Her coaching career really began to take shape during her time playing college basketball at Monmouth University. Playing under Stephanie Gaitley, who is now the head coach of Fordham University’s women’s basketball team, she was able to learn in greater depth what it meant to play basketball at a high level.
After her experiences at Monmouth, it sparked the idea to coach basketball.
“And from there, I knew I wanted to coach, and I got my first start in coaching at Florida State [University] when I was the recruiting director under coach Sue Semrau,” she explained. “And I had an amazing experience in Tallahassee, I learned so much about the art of recruiting and the nuance in recruiting.”
From there, Thibault-DuDonis continued on to partake in coaching roles in Eastern Michigan University and Mississippi State University until Lindsay Whalen ended up securing the head coaching position at the University of Minnesota. Whalen played for the Connecticut Sun of the Women’s National Basketball Association, which, consequently, was coached by none other than Mike Thibault, Carly’s father.
With this in mind, Thibault-DuDonis was able to connect with Whalen to take on the role of associate head coach at the University of Minnesota. Evidently, Thibault-DuDonis left Minnesota to become the next bench boss for the Fairfield Stags.
Although her proximity to the place she grew up was a factor in her decision to come coach at Fairfield, the main selling point for her was the culture created within Fairfield University athletics.
“And so that culture, and that investment in women’s basketball means a lot, you know,” Thibault-DuDonins commented. “Not everywhere invests in women’s basketball, and this is clearly a place for that which is really exciting.”
Through her talks with Athletic Director Paul Schlickmann, Deputy Director of Athletics Zach Dayton, and administrators themselves, she realized that she shared in the mission of Fairfield Athletics.
“On my campus interview, I got to meet President Nemec and a lot of the people within the administration again, that are great people first, but really care about doing things the right way here about being successful about trying to continue to put Fairfield on the map,” she continued. “Which is really exciting, to be able to continue to kind of break new ground.”
Although the next basketball season will not kick off until the late fall of this year, Thibault-DuDonis already has massive plans to take the program to new heights. Trying to “compete for a MAAC (Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) championship and continue to go to the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) tournament” is her main standard that she would like to set.
“That’s a lot easier said than done, and you know, I hope we get a chance to run it back this year,” she stated.
She cited that the stories of “mid-major” schools (athletic conferences outside of the “Power 5” conferences) who win games in the March Madness tournament, such as South Dakota State and Florida Gulf Coast, are inspiring messages that Fairfield University can do the same.
For the new bench boss, this process of making tournament runs is already ingrained in the players who are currently on the team.
“Well, I think the exciting thing is that they all have winners mindsets, you know, they know how to win,” Thinault-DuDonis said.
Additionally, she wants to create a more offensive-minded team on the court. She is seeking a team that “pushes the ball with some pace in scoring transition, but then shares the ball really well and make[s] quick decisions with the basketball.”
Shooting three-point shots is another area that she would like to integrate onto the court for her squad. Being disciplined in shooting is a key to success for Thibault-DuDonis.
During the long break before the next season starts, the coaching staff still has work to do in terms of recruiting new players to join the team. With her recruiting background, this would be right in her wheelhouse.
“I am definitely hitting the ground running from a recruiting standpoint,” she stated, continuing that good players can come from areas right around Fairfield, or even farther like the midwest U.S. and even abroad.
Off the court, however, Thibault-DuDonis truly wants to be able to develop her players off the court. By getting to know them personally and engaging with the team in workouts and other events over the course of the summer, she will be able to create a tight-knit team that supports each other.
The only thing that might step in her way over the offseason is “what the roster is going to look like.”
As the NCAA changed their rules on no longer needing to redshirt as a transfer, many more players are willing to enter the transfer portal and test their luck with a new school. For Fairfield, this means that constructing a solid roster must be a hasty process as women’s basketball’s best stars will be picked off the portal early.
“We’re here,” Thibault-DuDonis said excitedly. Pointing to the new arena being built, the success of the program over the last year, and the overall culture of improving every single day, the brand new coach is eager to begin.
She mentioned something Schlickmann mentioned to her previously: this season is not the pinnacle of the program, but just the springboard to elevate the program to new heights. For the team, that may look like a few different things. Being role models for the community and being accessible people are just two of the many ways that Thibault-DuDonis looks to improve the team off the court.
“I want little boys and girls to be begging their parents to bring them to the women’s basketball games because they’re so much fun,” she stated. “They want to root for their favorite player because they know that number one has taken pictures with them and has, you know, pushed them in clinics and things like that… and we just want to be really ingrained in the community.”
You can watch Thibault-DuDonis and her team hit the court of the brand new Arena and Convocation Center at the beginning of the season in late fall of 2022.