The Fairfield University women’s basketball team held their first practice of the season on Monday, Oct. 3 at Walsh Athletic Center Gymnasium. The Stags have a lot to look forward to this season: new players, a new arena and most importantly, a new head coach.
Carly Thibault-DuDonis, a former associate head coach at the University of Minnesota, was appointed to the position of head coach in April of 2022. She succeeds Joe Frager, who stepped down as head coach after 15 seasons, with his last one commencing in the program’s first NCAA appearance in 21 years.
Thibault-DuDonis brought a lot to the table in her practice: a new style of play, renewed energy and a new sense of communication, three elements that will help the program build momentum upon the success it had last season.
She believes that these fundamentals will pay off as the Stags prepare for their first game of the season, which is on Monday, Nov. 7 against Brown University in Providence, R.I.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a process getting to the first game, but that’s the way it should be,” Thibault-Dudonis explains. “We still have some things we want to clean up, improve on and build on. But it’s going to be a process. We have an entirely new system we’re installing so there’s definitely going to be a lot of correcting for the next little while. But these young women show up every single day with a drive to get better, and as long as they put in an effort we should be in a good place.”
The Stags will play the game of basketball a little differently this season. Previously, they played a style of basketball that would be considered more “old-school.” According to the 2021-22 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) overall statistics for women’s basketball, the Stags finished sixth in three-point attempts out of the eleven conference members participating in women’s basketball. For overall field goals, the team finished fourth in the conference, proving that they were much more efficient inside the paint.
According to the Big Ten conference stat rankings for women’s basketball last season, the University of Minnesota finished third in three-point attempts while finishing first overall in three-point percentage. Thibault-DuDonis brings a new set of ideas to the table, hoping to provide balance to a team that has its two returning starters being forwards and graduate students Callie Cavanaugh and Andrea Hernangomez.
Players understand that the identity of this year’s team will be noticeably different than it has been in the past. But at the same time, they are enjoying the transition and adding some more sweat during practices.
“It’s definitely a faster pace than we played last year, but we’re hoping that will pay off for us,” guard Mimi Rubino ‘24 says. “Obviously, we’re a little more tired right now, but it has been really nice to get used to playing at a different pace and pushing ourselves to push the pace.”
“Coming from Florida State and a different place, I can honestly say that coach Carly and the whole staff have been super welcoming to me,” transfer guard Izabella Nicolette Leite ‘24 explains. “She brings so much energy, and it’s certainly a different style of play, that’s for sure.”
“We have a couple of new players this year, so with that we’re facing a lot of adversity right now,” Cavanaugh says. “But that’s the case with every basketball team heading into a new season. What really sets up a successful team is how you handle the adversity and the response you have to it. I think so far, we’ve handled it very well.”
While the players become accustomed to their new coaches’ style of play, they took the opportunity to praise their coach by raving about the energy she brings to the court and how she has carried herself out as a person.
“Coach has been awesome. She brings so much energy to the gym and she loves being there with us,” Rubino says. “She cares about us off the court just as much as she does on the court, so I’m honestly super blessed to have someone like that.”
“I love the coaching staff and my new teammates, they have been so supportive and welcoming to me,” Leite expresses. “I couldn’t ask for a better situation. I’m so happy to be here and I can’t wait to see what we have in store for this year.”
“I’m definitely excited to be a tone-setter for coach Carly,” Cavanaugh says. “She’s awesome. She’s always available if we need anything, and I think her style of basketball is going to blend well with our style we’ve been playing in the past. She’s great, I couldn’t have asked for any better.”
In addition to their new additions at head coach and in the locker room, the Stags have another big addition, and that is their arena, which will open next month. Players and coaches are both excited about the opportunity to play at the recently-named Leo D. Mahoney Arena, which they believe will give the team something to look forward to. After years of playing at the small and antiquated Alumni Hall and the off-campus Total Mortgage Arena in Bridgeport, Conn., the Stags will finally be able to settle into their new home.
“I think the new arena poses really exciting opportunities for us to connect not only with the community, but the student body as well,” coach Thibault-Dudonis proclaims. “We’re really excited to get our crowd going and to play at a new home. We’re pumped.”
“We’re really excited for the arena to open, obviously,” Rubino expresses. “My freshman year we couldn’t have any fans at our old arena, so that kind of stunk. And last year we played in Bridgeport, and it was hard to get some fans in there, so that was challenging as well. I’m excited to have people from campus come and we’re just excited to have more people in the stands as a whole.”
“I’m excited that I can be a part of the start of something special here,” Leite says.
“I can’t wait for the season to get started, that’s for sure,” Cavanaugh exclaims. “I’m pumped that we’ll have a much stronger home-court advantage, which is something that we’ve been lacking over the past several years.”
For more information on the Fairfield women’s basketball team and Fairfield athletics as a whole, visit www.fairfieldstags.com for news, information and updates.