Thomas Shea/The Mirror
Women’s Head Coach Joe Frager – Tom Shea
Before the season started last year, Fairfield women’s basketball Head Coach Joe Frager appeared fit to be tied.
Coming out of what apparently was one of the more frustrating practices of the still very young season, Frager was anything but subtle when he suggested that had he not been scheduled for an interview, he might have thrown himself out of the nearest window.
This year, a much calmer Frager has prevailed. He seems happy with the steps his team has made in the past few weeks, even saying that last week they were coming off from one of the best practices they’ve had so far.
Some things may be easier for Coach Frager heading into this season in some regards, like determining his starting lineup. Last year, inconsistency was the common theme among all the players, especially anyone who was penciled in as a starter. This year, four of the five starters were almost shoe-ins for the job given their previous success and experience, making Frager’s decision a bit easier.
That being said, Frager is not looking at this season as even remotely in the bag. In fact, he took a cautious approach when asked how he thought the season could unfold this year for his team.
“Some years I’ve had a better grasp on how we would do, this year it could really tip either way,” said Frager.
“Honestly, if everything does mesh and click right, I think we can surprise some people. I really, really do,” he said, “I also know that it is a delicate balance, because we do have two or three players that are really essential to our success.”
Frager’s teams in the past have made it a habit to surprise people, as they have consistently found their way towards the tops of the conference standings year after year. Frager says that the past years of success have created an atmosphere of postseason or bust, which is something that he sees this group possessing as well.
“It has kind of become the expectation now because now because in three out of the past four years, we have made a postseason, so they want that again, and I think they want a little bit more,” said Frager.
This year, the Stags were picked to finish fourth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, behind Marist, Iona and Quinnipiac. But preseason rankings are not something that Frager puts a lot of weight into.
“Honestly, based on what we returned compared to the other teams, I think that’s fair,” said Frager. “I thought we wouldgo somewhere four, five or six. I put zero stock in that, because none of that takes into account any of our new players, any of their new players [or] who’s been hurt in the offseason. All [the voters] see is that Katie [Cizynski] and [Brittany Obi-Tabot] were second team all league, so they think: ‘They’ve got to be pretty good,’ so they put us fourth.”
One player who remains a key to their success is Kristin Schatzlein ’16. She did not start a single game during her freshman campaign last year, but appeared in all 32 games for Frager, allowing him to gain confidence in her. However, even if she does have the starting job as of now, that does not mean Frager is content for her to stop improving, as he still sees holes in her game that he would like to see fade away with more time and experience.
“We’ve been playing Schatzlein in the other position, and the more she’s out there the more comfortable she gets,” he said. “With her, she’s got that personality sometimes where she defers and she’s so unselfish. I actually think she plays better when she’s a little bit more aggressive, because she’s such a good passer. We try to hit home that the more aggressive you are, the easier it will be to find people.”
As for the rest of the team and especially his seniors, Frager could only find one complaint about the group as a whole: emotion. Usually when a coach says that, he or she would like to see their players try to keep their feelings in check, so as to remain in control throughout the game.
Frager, on the flipside, would like to see more times of emotional outpour from his team.
“This is a tough team from the outside looking in to really read, because we don’t have a lot of demonstrative [players], kids with a lot of expression. Katie has a poker face, Obi has a poker face, [DaCruz] has a poker face,” said Frager. “Of those five girls [Cizynski, Obi-Tabot, Vazquez, DaCruz, and Schatzlein], none of them are what you would call a ‘wear the heart on the sleeve’ type kid.
“To someone on the outside looking in, they might say ‘Where’s the passion in this group?’ But I do think they’re hungry in their own very understated way. They do really want to do well.”
Overall, Frager would like to see this team improve throughout the season, becoming better as they go along.
“I think this team has the ability, if we stay healthy, to play their better basketball later [in the season],” said Frager. “We have stretches where we look great, and we put a couple of the young kids out there, and it’s like ‘What exactly are we doing right now?’ But they’re a good group.”
Men’s Head Coach Sydney Johnson – Jennifer Calhoun
In his two full seasons in charge of the Fairfield men’s basketball team, Head Coach Sydney Johnson has proven that he’s a coach who is invested emotionally in his team. As Derek Needham ‘13 exited the court during his final MAAC game last season, he entered into a tearful embrace with Johnson that showed both how much Needham respected Johnson and how deeply Johnson cared for Needham.
In the press conference following their victory over Sacred Heart on Saturday, Johnson sat at the table with his only senior, Maurice Barrow. As he sat up there, Johnson was asked a question about the man sitting next to him. Johnson’s response was heartfelt and emotional: “I miss him already,” he said, lamenting the impending graduation of Barrow in May.
In April 2011, it was announced that Johnson would be joining the Stags from his alma mater, Princeton. While a coach at Princeton, the Tigers were first in the nation in scoring defense. He was also two-time Ivy League Coach of the Year.
Since Johnson joined Fairfield from Princeton, his effect has been felt by the whole community. In his first two seasons, Johnson coached the Stags to a combined record of 41-31, the most wins by any coach in Fairfield history after two seasons.
The seasons have included a trip to the MAAC Championship, the longest postseason run in program history and some huge wins, such as the nail-biter victory over Iona last season.
This season, he will have a larger task on his hands, with six of his players playing their first seasons in a Fairfield jersey. He has four freshmen, as well as two transfer students playing for the first time after sitting out for a year, by NCAA guidelines.
However, Johnson has put his trust into Amadou Sidibe ‘16 by naming him captain in his sophomore year. Johnson has never been shy about ignoring grades and playing (or giving captaincies to) the younger students. In the first two games of the season, the starting five have had a freshman both times.
This season, there will be pressure to keep up the winning ways of the past two seasons, but the pressure is something Johnson has been dealing with since he’s gotten to Fairfield, and he’s been dealing with it quite well.