Fahey reflects on title run
With the Washington University women’s basketball team taking the national championship this past weekend, head coach Nancy Fahey won her fifth title at Wash. U. as she improved her all-time record here to 571-100 (.851 percent). Fahey sat down with us to talk about what the championship weekend—and the season as a whole—was like for her and her team.
Student Life: When we talked to the players this past weekend, it sounded like it hadn’t really hit them what they had just accomplished. For you, having been there before, would you say you might have processed it sooner than them? And now, has it finally hit you guys that you won the national championship?
Nancy Fahey: Being fortunate enough to have experience, from a coaching standpoint, I think I did know a little bit. More than anything, I just wanted it for them—as much as I’ve wanted it for any other team that’s played here. But that’s probably the difference, is winning your last ball game, and that feeling is pretty special. So for me I’m still kind of walking 10 feet above the ground. I’m very excited for them. And since it’s been so long in a sense, you just tend to appreciate it a little bit more.
SL: On Friday against Amherst, you guys were down 12 points late in the second half. Looking back, was there a single moment that got you guys back in the game?
NF: It was more a series of moments. It’s a little bit foggy what happened first. I know [graduate student] Jaimie McFarlin made that half-court steal and for a layup, and then we had two threes, from [senior Zoë] Unruh and [sophomore] Claire Schaeperkoetter, back to back. I remember turning to my assistants, going, “We’ve just got to get this close.” I know Amherst has pretty much been in control of every game this year, so when momentum started going, those were the three big things I remember happening, pretty close together, that kind of swung the momentum.
SL: You just mentioned McFarlin—obviously, before this year, she made the decision to come back as a graduate student for her fourth year of eligibility. How much has she brought here over the last four years? How different is this team this year without her?
NF: Obviously she’s a key inside player that has a very good basketball IQ and is extremely explosive offensively. But there’s a lot of key components of this team, and everybody’s component is valued. Obviously, when she came back, we were excited, because that did give us experience and explosiveness that was nice to have this year.
SL: Was there a particular point in the season that you think might have sent this team on its way to the title?
NF: I usually can pick one out right away, and I don’t know if there was one game that I thought we flipped into another level. I do think that winning at Chicago at the end of the year was a key component in getting our momentum going into the next six games. We were playing at a pretty high level when we started playing in the postseason. That’s the key. There’s several teams that could’ve won this national championship. It’s just the series of components that are playing at that level that really put it together. I did think it was important to win that last game and win the UAA and get our momentum going.
SL: You guys hadn’t lost since late January against Rochester, so, as you just hinted to, how much of a role do you think momentum played for you guys going into the tournament?
NF: Well, to be honest, most of those teams at that point were in the same boat. When you get to that last one or two weekends, most teams are on some serious winning streaks. So then it reverts to, are you peaking at the right time? It’s oversaid, but it’s truly important at that time.
SL: And on a similar note to that, Amherst was No. 1 and undefeated going in. There are some people who say it’s better to have that loss beforehand than to have that monkey on your back. Do you think maybe Amherst felt a bit of that?
NF: Well, when we had our undefeated seasons (in 1998-1999 and 1999-2000), I always told the kids, “You don’t have to lose to learn.” And I’m sure that’s how Amherst felt. They were very much in control of their conference, and their streak was pretty solid. All I can say, in speaking for us, is that the competitiveness of our league really did help us prepare for a game like that.
SL: CBS showed a graphic during Saturday’s game that had you fourth all time among basketball coaches across all levels, above University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma and right below University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt. What does it mean to you to be in that kind of company?
NF: It’s very flattering, and I appreciate it. I just guess that I don’t try to read too much, and that’s quite frankly, because if you start reading your own…I appreciate it, I’m flattered by it, but I guess I just don’t try to look at graphics. This is such a team game, and I’m pretty well aware of how fragile those statistics are. Right now Wash. U. won a championship, and that’s what I’m happy about.
SL: As coaches, how much time do you give yourself to relax and enjoy this one before you start focusing on next year?
NF: I’m going to soak this one in for a bit. But to be honest, we’ve already talked about recruiting. We’re going to enjoy it, but we understand people are already working on next year, so we’ve got to jump on it. We’ve been working constantly, so…enough, but not too long, I guess.
SL: The group of seniors leaving this year—Zoë Unruh, Janice Evans, Stacey Niese, Jaimie McFarlin—when was the last time you remember having to replace a group of seniors like this, and then how do you go about trying to replace any senior leadership that has achieved success?
NF: We’ve had outstanding leadership for several years. We’ve graduated impact seniors year in and yearout. On our third national championship [following the 2000-01 season] we lost a very strong group and we had to come back that following year. You don’t replace. You let the next year’s team develop their personality, and you go to their strengths. They’ve had a great four years, a huge impact, but now I’m confident this next group understands now it’s their turn, it’s their time, and we’ll let them develop their personality.
SL: The last thing that people read here, that they’ll remember about this team: What would that be for you?
NF: It’s a special group, a special time, and I appreciate all of the support. To the people that came up and watched throughout the entire season, not just the Final Four—a big thank you.