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Quinnipiac women's basketball and its head coach look to move up the national spotlight
If you asked Tricia Fabbri how many kids she has, she would respond with four; her three biological children, and an adopted child: the Quinnipiac women’s basketball program.
Fabbri has now been the coach of the Quinnipiac women’s basketball team for 22 seasons. After a long and windy road, her Bobcats finally reached the Sweet 16 in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
“We did it,” coach Fabbri said of the moment when the Bobcats defeated the Miami Hurricanes in the second round. “We’re going to the second weekend!”
Fabbri’s journey at Quinnipiac began in 1995, and she is one of the two coaches that remains from Burt Kahn’s time as athletic director. She can still recall the odd setting of her interview with him.
“Burt Kahn was such a character,” Fabbri said. “He had his dogs around, he had his tobacco in his mouth and was walking around doing stuff, and we were just having a conversation about stuff that I couldn’t remember…I thought it was interesting.”
When Fabbri came to Quinnipiac as an assistant coach from her alma mater Fairfield, the school wasn’t a university and the Bobcats were a Division II program. They also played their games in a multi-purpose gym that is now known as Burt Kahn Court.
“I didn’t know much about Quinnipiac,” Fabbri, a lifelong Connecticut resident, said. “I thought ‘This would be a good step for me, I’m ready for it.’”
Now the Bobcats are a Division I program that plays in a state-of-the-art arena. They’ve also moved up in the conference ranks in that time, moving from the Northeast Conference (NEC) to the Metro Athletic Athletic Conference (MAAC), going up against Fabbri’s alma mater.
“[TD Bank Sports Center] is really one of the best in the country,” Fabbri said. “We’re in a constant state of being better and efficient. Wouldn’t you rather be here as opposed to ‘This is the way it is?’…to me, that’s where you want to be.”
Fabbri was almost not around for the opening of the the TD Bank Sports Center in 2007 because she nearly quit in 2000 after the team had close losses to Wake Forest and Seton Hall.
“We were doing good things against programs that were in the Big East and the ACC and I can’t stand losing,” Fabbri said. “When you wanna win and you’re trying to turn the corner, you’re pulling your hair out.”
Associate head coach Mountain MacGillivray joined the program in 2009 as a recruiting coordinator and knew that he wanted to be on the Quinnipiac coaching staff when he met Fabbri.
“What I was really looking for was someone who really cared about her players and was secure about her job and her abilities and was confident,” MacGillivray said. “[Fabbri’s] a mother of three, so she understood how to take care of her girls. I knew right away, meeting her and meeting a couple of players, that this was going to be a great place to work. And it has been.”
MacGillivray’s job, as a recruiter, is to find high schoolers to buy into Fabbri’s 10-player rotation, where 10 players play roughly 15-25 minutes a game, and no one player is bigger than the system.
“The one thing I want [recruits] to know is that you’re going to be playing for someone who is going to take care of you, and that’s not the case everywhere in Division One basketball,” MacGillivray said. “We have a lot of things that separate us (from other programs,) but as a player I think what you should be most concerned about is am I going to enjoy my experience playing for my head coach. And the fact of the matter is our players stay here and enjoy their experience here no matter how much they’re playing on the court because of how well they’re taken care of.”
Fabbri’s daughter, Carly, is a rising senior on the team. She says that her mother is no different as a coach than she is a parent.
“Both as a parent and as a coach she has high expectations,” Carly Fabbri said. “I think if you set the bar high that doesn’t really leave a lot of room for error. She expects us, as players, to come to practice every day willing to compete. She expects us, every game, to go out there and not really care about the name of the jersey we’re playing against.”
Rising redshirt junior forward Jen Fay was one of those players that bought into Fabbri’s system.
“The one thing that I thought was different about Quinnipiac than any other school that I visited was the family atmosphere,” Fay said. “All the coaches were there to meet you and greet you…each coach took the time out of their day to show you around, and I think that family atmosphere was really the one thing that drew me here.”
Fay, who made the All-MAAC second team this past season, believes the 10-player rotation helped her grow as a player.
“Freshman year, my whole class, none of us really played that much,” Fay said. “But we also got to play under what was arguably the best starting five that they’ve had here…playing under them we really just go to grow as a player and got experience. But it was a different type of experience, they were leading us the whole way because now we’re able to step up to the stage and produce.”
The program won its first postseason game in 2016, winning a game in the NIT. Although the program had not won an NCAA Tournament game in its two previous appearances in 2013 and 2015, the goal was to win two tournament games in 2017.
The Bobcats would win a MAAC Championship, giving them a berth into the NCAA Tournament. In the first round, the No. 12 seeded Bobcats upset the No. 5 seed Marquette Golden Eagles, 68-65, setting up a second round matchup against No. 4 Miami on its home court.
Quinnipiac took an early lead, but saw a few players get into foul trouble. Despite that, the Bobcats were able to hold off a late Hurricanes rally, winning 85-78 and accomplishing the goal they had set prior to the season.
“Hard work always pays off and you don’t know when, and it paid off,” Fabbri said. “As a coach and as a player you never want to feel satisfied or say you’re satisfied, but truthfully [it was] satisfying…and there was nothing easy about it.”
It could be said that the moment the Quinnipiac women’s basketball team “graduated” was when it defeated the Miami in the second round of the NCAA tournament, leading to a few days of buzz surrounding the team.
Local media outlets awaited the team’s arrival at the airport following its win against Miami. A day later, a pep rally was held outside the TD Bank Sports Center, where Fabbri stood atop a firetruck ladder to address the fans on the team’s success as fans stood out in the frigid weather.
Even ESPN joined in on the coverage with a story on how to pronounce “KWIN-uh-pee-ack.”
The Bobcats gained national fame like their in-state foes, the UConn Huskies, who had won the previous four championships and were riding a record 109-game winning streak at the time.
But the Bobcats lost to the eventual champion South Carolina Gamecocks, 100-58, in the Sweet 16 game that the Gamecocks dominated from the beginning.
“[The Gamecocks] didn’t give us any hope,” Fabbri said. “They were ready to go.”
Typically after this type of success at a mid-major program, coaches may jump ship to a bigger school. But Quinnipiac won’t have to worry about losing Fabbri.
“Are you kidding me?” Fabbri said on the possibility of leaving. “This is my baby! I’ve got four kids, Carly, A.J., Paul Henry, and Quinnipiac women’s basketball. We continue to do things that have not been done here before.”
Fabbri has been contacted by other schools for their coaching position, but wouldn’t comment on which ones.
Although the Bobcats have found a new taste of success, they aren’t doing things differently. Offseason workouts are the same as they’ve ever been, and Fabbri is sticking to her 10-player rotation. She also hopes that with the new success, it will be easier for recruits to by into her system.
“All that exposure was immeasurable, and now we’re trying to measure just exactly how much did it do,” Fabbri said.
She also hopes that the team can ride its popularity wave into next season with the fans. Lender Court holds 3,570 seats, but there were only three games last season that more than 1,000 fans attended. To add to that, the student section typically consists of the pep band and a handful of students.
“People are very proud of what we were able to accomplish,” Fabbri said. “Hopefully we’re able to capitalize on the success of what we were able to do and get people in the stands for our home games next year.”
As for next season, the Bobcats return 12 players, including Carly Fabbri, and Fay. However, they also lose two of their senior captains in guard Adily Martucci and forward Morgan Manz.
“As fun as it has been these last couple of months, we now have to shift our focus on to next season,” Carly Fabbri said. “It’s hard to win a lot of games, it’s hard to win the regular season of the MAAC, and go in and win in three days of the MAAC Championship Tournament…now that we’ve been there and we’ve seen what it takes, hopefully we’re going to take that experience and make that happen again.”
One of the reasons that the Bobcats have had the success they’ve had is due to a strong out of conference schedule, and it won’t be any different this upcoming season. The Bobcats are scheduled to host the Providence Friars, Princeton Tigers, and defending Atlantic-10 Champion Dayton Flyers. They will also travel to Michigan State after hosting them last season.
Fabbri doesn’t see a matchup with UConn in the near future, after they almost faced each other in 2015 before the Huskies backed out to face Maryland at Madison Square Garden.
With all that the program has achieved the last five seasons, Fabbri believes that the program is still growing and that it’s not far away from joining college basketball’s elite.
“I’d like to say that we’re knocking on the door of a Final Four [within the next four years],” Fabbri said. “I know people are sitting here saying ‘she’s out of her mind,” but the kids that say yes to Quinnipiac want those challenges.”