Women’s basketball head coach Joe Frager knew his team was going to get younger this season after graduating almost its entire starting lineup. He just didn’t know how much younger.
“The other day at Rider, I heard the lineup being announced, and I heard, sophomore, freshman, freshman, and sophomore,” said Frager. “I turned to my assistant coach and said, ‘Oh my God. I didn’t realize I was starting two freshman and two sophomores.’ We just need to get older and work on getting better.”
Throughout the season Frager has remarked on how much he enjoys coaching this team and how well the players support each other. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t exempt from making young mistakes.
“I think in the first half, we had open looks early that we didn’t knock down,” said Frager. “And I think one of the problems, being a young team, when you miss an open shot, you miss a defensive assignment at the other end. It’s one thing if a team comes out and does something you’ve never seen, but they didn’t do anything we didn’t scout.”
Fairfield (9-10 overall, 3-5 MAAC) has slumped in recent weeks, losing four straight MAAC games before going 1-1 this weekend. Fairfield beat Rider (2-17, 0-8) 51-45, but lost to Manhattan (9-10, 4-4) 67-54.
Against Manhattan, the Stags battled back from being down 17 late in the first half, to narrow the deficit to two points in the second half, but were unable to connect on free throws, including a few front ends of one-and-ones. Fairfield finished the game seven of 17 from the line, while the Jaspers went 19 of 21.
Not only have the Stags relied heavily on youth, but they’ve also been battling injuries recently as well. Frager said that he is a believer in repetition and to practice free throws, the players run hard before going to the line to simulate game situations. But with the recent injuries, the Stags haven’t had the depth.
Starting sophomore guard Desiree Pina has been battling shin splints and starting freshman guard Katelyn Linney has been playing with plantar fasciitis. Senior guard Lauren Tucker is expect to be out at least three weeks with a herniated disk while fellow senior forward Tara Flaherty recently returned from an ankle injury, but still hasn’t fully recovered. Senior Kendra Hussey and sophomore Sarah Paulus are out for the year with a neck and ACL injury respectively.
With all the injuries and youth, one of the constants has been senior forward Stephanie Geehan.
Geehan posted her 12th double-double of the season against Manhattan, scoring 19 points and grabbing 19 rebounds. She also had a double-double in the win against Rider with 13 points and 10 rebounds. She was named the MAAC Player of the Week.
“We struggled shooting,” said Geehan after the game against Manhattan. “We came out slow, but in the second half, we hit a few shots in a row and got our energy up. We shot the ball better, but in the first half, shots were just not falling.”
She also blocked 12 shots on the week and moved into third place all-time on the MAAC and school blocked-shot list, finishing the week with 240 for her career. She is 25 blocks shy of her own single-season record, and 28 shy of the career program record.
Geehan finished the week ranked fourth in the nation in blocked shots, 3.7 per game, and rebounds, 11.8 per game. She has 12 double-doubles on the year, which is third among D-I players.
Frager’s goal is always to have his teams play their best basketball at the end of the season for the MAAC Tournament. With players like Geehan along with Fairfield’s youthful core improving, the Stags aren’t out of anything yet.
“If we had won today, we likely wake up tomorrow morning in fourth place in the MAAC,” said Frager after the loss to Manhattan. “Obviously, we’re disappointed with our overall record and our MAAC record, but even if we win 24 games, we’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. That’s a mid-major basketball reality. We’re going to work on getting better.”