Jeff Jacobs: Fabbri’s Quinnipiac women ‘built to last’
Moments after Quinnipiac’s home victory over Canisius on Friday night, Tricia Fabbri pulled off her pink high heels and took off for the second half of her son Paul Henry’s high school basketball game.
St. Joseph-Trumbull beat Fairfield Ludlowe by a point for its first win. That made mom happy. Saturday morning, Fabbri was back in her car, heading to Jersey in search of a big recruit.
Not being with the team before a road game was unusual, Fabbri said, but she’d meet her Bobcats later Saturday night in Albany. It’s all good, she said. And the fact that she was set to win her 400th career game at Siena?
“C’mon, you see Geno Auriemma got his 1,000th,” Fabbri, in her 23rd season, said. “Sylvia Hatchell got her 1,000th at North Carolina. Barbara Stevens [at Division 2 Bentley] got 1,000. What’s everyone making a big deal about? It’s a number. I’ve done this long enough. You should hit some numbers.”
Associate coach Mountain MacGillivray hit Fabbri with a number the other day, one indicative of what she has built at Quinnipac, one indicative that it is built to last.
“Mountain goes, ‘Congratulations on 20.’ I’m like, ‘What?’ He goes, ‘Seven straight years of at least 20 wins.’ That’s pretty cool. Great consistency brings greatness.”
Auriemma paused for a moment Sunday when asked what motivated him to wear that Quinnipiac shirt at the Bridgeport Regional last March in support of the Bobcats before their 2017 Sweet Sixteen game at the Stockton Regional.
“Because I know people like that don’t get any respect from anybody,” Auriemma said.
“They get nothing. When they get into the NCAA Tournament, there’s a certain segment of the world, that goes, ‘Ahhh, why do we have to have them in the Regionals? They’re not going to be competitive.’
“When Phil Martelli had St. Joseph’s at No. 1 in the country, he was going they got to eliminate the Pa. after St. Joe’s (Pa.), everybody thinks it’s Joe Paterno’s school. There just comes a point when you got to go, hey, I’m going to let everybody know who we are. This is Quinnipiac. I’ll even teach you how to say it properly. I admired that. I’m fortunate, we’ve got a big platform.”
So as Quinnipiac, which had knocked off ranked Miami and Marquette, prepared for eventual national champion South Carolina, there was Auriemma opening up his UConn jacket to hype the Bobcats. It was all over ESPN. It was all over the internet.
“That was the exclamation mark on the year,” Fabbri said. “That’s validation from Geno Auriemma. I loved people saying there are two really good women’s basketball programs in Connecticut. Him putting us alongside him there, that was spectacular for us.”
Fabbri, who came up from South Jersey to play college ball at Fairfield, needed six years to get her first winning record at Quinnipiac. The Bobcats have run off seasons of 30-3, 21-13, 31-4, 25-9, 29-7 and now 21-5. It’s hard to believe she once was 33-98.
Hartford got to the NCAA Tournament six times out of America East under Jen Rizzotti. That momentum ended in 2011. Rizzotti left. The Bobcats roll on, 15-0 in the MAAC after beating Siena, 83-72, Sunday. They have a 16-game winning streak. They are shooting for their fourth NCAA Tournament in six seasons.
When Quinnipiac made the jump from the NEC in 2013-2014, the question was can Fabbri’s program run with the MAAC and Marist? Obviously, yes. Besides the UConn women, no state Division I football or basketball program is any better in 2018.
“Whether it was Jack McDonald or Greg Amodio as director of athletics, at the end of each year we have meetings,” Fabbri said. “It’s, ‘Trish, what’s the next step for the program? And how can we help?’
“The reason it is stable and can be consistently successful is I’ve had that direct line of communication to the leadership of the school. The new arena allowed for an explosion to get athletes. You’ve seen it. Quinnipiac is a dynamic place, innovative, great leadership. We didn’t have to fight and be told no.”
Power Five schools, satisfying Title IX demands, pour money into women’s basketball. UConn and Green Bay are the only outsiders in the AP Top 25. There are eight in men’s basketball, three of the top six. For Quinnipiac to finish No. 23 in the coaches poll last season was no small matter.
“A mid-major can do it still on the men’s side,” Auriemma said. “On the women’s side, virtually impossible. It’s so hard to break through and gain any traction NCAA Tournament-wise. One of the reason Quinnipiac has been able to build what they’ve built is they don’t look at themselves as this small, little school in Hamden. They certainly don’t charge like one.
“They view themselves as one of the top schools in the country, as they should. Hockey is a perfect example of what they can do. They have amazing facilities. They’re built to last. And the exposure they got last year was invaluable.”
The Bobcats got a taste of the NCAA in 2013, took the bus to Maryland, lost by 20. Pushing for a higher seed with a tougher schedule, they got a neutral site game in a NCAA loss to Oklahoma in 2015. It’s about the steps, Fabbri loves to say. Well, the steps got so high last March that Fabbri had to get on a hook and ladder from the Hamden Fire Department at a pep rally.
“We have an opportunity to tell a different story,” Fabbri said. “That’s our beauty.”
The story was an ambitious one this season. Ohio State and Missouri, national powers, Iowa and Michigan State were on the non-conference schedule. The Bobcats were 4-5. They also have wins over top 50 RPI schools, Dayton, Central Michigan, North Colorado. What made it more trying were torn ACLs suffered by Sarah Shewan and Vanessa Udoji at Richmond on Dec. 1. The team could have been devastated.
“We stayed on the road, won two days later at Hampton, there’s proof of the quality of our young ladies,” Fabbri said. “We know it’s not going to be rainbows and butterflies all the time. After last year, we also have a better understanding of your why.”
Jeny Fay, Aryn McClure, Paula Strautmane, Fabbri’s daughter Carly, Taylor Herd are five players why.
“Trish doesn’t take any grief from anybody,” Auriemma said. “She walks around like she owns the place. She knows she’s good. She’s very demanding of her players. They obviously love and respect her. It reminds me of Fran Dunphy all those years at Penn. You have a chance to go anywhere. Why you staying? She has something special going on there. That’s why.
“I consider Trish a really good friend, but I just got to say my mom, my family, my team, my assistants were just appalled by her potty mouth.”
Geno and Tricia are big Eagles fans. Eagles fan all have potty mouths.