The Fairfield women’s basketball team held their first practice of the season this past Monday, Sep. 25 at Walsh Athletic Center Gymnasium. This is the first of many for the Stags, as they enter their second season with head coach Carly Thibault-Dudonis at the helm, seeking to improve after finishing with a 15-15 overall record to go along with their 11-9 record in conference play.
The Stags’ roster heading into the season is mixed with established veterans, underclassmen and transfers. Leading the charge this season for the squad are senior guards Mimi Rubino ‘24, Janelle Brown ‘24 and forwards MacKenzie Daleba ‘24 and Dayna Tirado ‘24 along with redshirt guard Izabella Nicoletti Leite ‘24 and graduate student guard Nicole Gallagher ‘24. They will be helped by transfer guards Kendall McGruder ‘25 and Emina Selimovic ‘25 in addition to the other players on the active roster.
The first slate of practices have shown glimpses of the fast-paced, up-tempo style of play that the Stags seek to execute as they enter year two of the Thibault-DuDonis era. She wants to play a more team brand of basketball instead of the shoulders resting on one person, as she seeks to build a system that focuses on passing, screens and an up-front, aggressive form of play on defense.
Despite some growing pains to start the season, Thibault-DuDonis believes that all is progressing well thus far.
“Practice has been going really well so far,” the second-year bench boss elaborates. “We’re really focused on continuing to build the foundation of our program and I think we’re starting to see some sort of chemistry develop, which is important. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but it’s still early on and we’ve got some time before our first games in November.”
The Stags are just a little over a month away before their first tilt of the season, tipping off against Lehman College on Nov. 6. Some of the other non-conference opponents that the Stags will face prior to transitioning to their conference season includes Vanderbilt University on Nov. 12, Rutgers University on Nov. 20 and St. John’s University on Dec. 7, the latter of which will be held at Leo D. Mahoney Arena.
Thibault-Dudonis believes that the exposure to bigger-name programs on the national scale will help the Stags become stronger as a unit.
“I think it will be great challenges, you know, I think our non-conference is set up so we can be successful heading into MAAC play,” Thibault-Dudonis says. “As far as we are concerned, we are not that concerned about who we are playing, all we can do is get better in practice and win every game that we can. That’s what it is all about.”
Her players also have a high level of confidence heading into the season, feeling that they can continue to build off of what they started last year and carry it into this season.
“I’d say the first two practices are going really well,” Rubino explains. “We’re bringing a lot of intensity obviously. We have some new players coming in and they are very talented. We have been bringing a lot of intensity to our practices and we are using that to build a strong level of chemistry. We are very energetic but we want to stay positive. We are working hard and we are very excited for this season.”
“I love it so far, I thought coming in this summer and connecting with my new teammates worked out really well,” Selimovic, a former Siena College transfer, says. “It was really important for me to come in and build connections not only with the returners but also the incoming freshman. This team is all about family, they are very supportive of each other and place a strong emphasis on building relationships early on, and I think it has helped me so far.”
Additionally, players such as Brown and Rubino are being counted on for leadership positions as they look to lead the Stags to their second MAAC title in three seasons. Both players are embracing their high rankings in the team leadership hierarchy heading into the season.
“I’m embracing it, I’m just applying myself to be a leader out here on the court,” Brown states. “I have to understand that not everything is going to be positive all the time, but it’s important to remind my teammates to have a positive mindset every time we go out there. Just being around my teammates and being around other leaders out here, it is just important to pick everyone when things don’t always go our way.”
“I have been fortunate enough to be around a lot of great leaders throughout my years here,” Rubino, the Pequannock, N.J. native explains. “I’m super excited for my senior year and since I’m in that spot now, I’m hoping to step up a little more. I want to be in a good leadership role and help this team to a championship, so I’m very excited to see how this season turns out.”
The women’s basketball team is just starting its journey, and if you want to find out more information about the program and Fairfield athletics in general, please visit www.fairfieldstags.com.