Kendra Faustin is hanging an "Under Construction" sign on her program. After being named the coach at Niagara University back in August, Faustin not only has to teach the Purple Eagles a different philosophy, but considering this is her first season running a program, she's also learning on the fly about becoming a head coach.
"It's like having 16 freshmen because everything is new," said the former Canisius assistant. "The drills, expectations, the way we do things on the road, the philosophy of defense and offense, everything is new. We're going to be learning together."
Faustin, a native of Hartland, Mich., spent three years as the top assistant under Terry Zeh, helping to guide the Golden Griffins to a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title and the first appearance in the NCAA tournament by a Big 4 women's program. She takes over for Bill Agronin who resigned in August, four months after agreeing to a contract extension.
While Agronin built a solid program at Monteagle Ridge, his final two seasons were not memorable (18-41). While Faustin might suffer from a talent shortage in her rookie season, she already has a reputation for instilling defensive intensity and coaxing increased effort.
"I don't have a whole lot of patience sometimes and I want us to be better than we are," Faustin said. "One of my mentors told me, 'It's not as bad as it seems and it's not as good as it seems. You have to have a little patience.' So I'm trying to stay even and not so up and down."
Faustin wants to play a hounding defense with her guards smothering the ball. Senior Michelle Manfredi, sophomore Jennifer McNamee and junior Erika Harris should benefit most from this system.
Manfredi can play either position in the backcourt, but does most of her damage on the glass. She led the conference in rebounding, averaging 8.8 boards a game, and grabbed 3.1 offense boards a game. McNamee, an All-MAAC rookie selection last season, shot 30.2 percent from three-point range, while the cat-quick Harris is capable of creating shots off the dribble.
Returning in the post is senior Sara Prybyl, who averaged a career-high 7.0 points a game and 6-foot-2 senior Sarah Wilson, the tallest player on the roster, who ranked first in the league in blocked shots (1.9) and fourth in rebounding (6.7). During a recent scrimmage three players fouled out, which didn't seem to bother Faustin much because she wants Niagara to be known as a strong, physical ballclub.
Senior Cathy Rutter and junior Kristina Walton have made the most strides during the offseason. Like Manfredi, Rutter can play both guard spots, while Walton is athletic and can rebound and guard all over the floor. Both played only minor roles a year ago.
The transition from Agronin to Faustin was made easier when Faustin hired Purple Eagles great Katie Murphy as an assistant. Faustin figures the team has taken well to her demanding coaching style because of Murphy's presence.
"They all know who she is and that she did great things here," Faustin said.
Senior Jessi Tomasin returns after sitting out last season with an injury. As a junior in 2005-06, she averaged 5.3 points per game and canned a team-high 42 three-pointers. The four newcomers -- Boston University transfer Jacy Schulz and freshmen Liz Flooks, Julie Gebhard and Allison Smith -- all have versatility. Flooks, in fact, averaged a triple-double of 16.5 points, 11.0 boards and 10.0 assists last season for White Plains High School.
Niagara figures to have more balanced scoring, but it needs to find a way to fill the offensive void created by the departure of Chantelle Wilson and Shaunna Ambrose. Wilson led the conference in three-pointers and finished her career fourth in three-point field goals with 158.
Ambrose, last year's leading scorer, earned first-team All-MAAC honors, averaging 17.4 points a game and finished her career as one of only 19 players to reach the 1,000-point plateau. Ambrose was the only consistent double-figure scorer on the roster last season.
Because this is her first season, Faustin doesn't know how well the team will respond to adversity and the peaks and valleys during the season.
"When will it click for us together as a team?" Faustin said. "Some people get it right away and some don't. When will we get it together? That's the biggest question mark for us."
Niagara doesn't have enough size to cause problems in the post and will need to get more aggressive defensively on the perimeter.
For Niagara, which was picked to finish ninth, to surprise the MAAC and finish in the top half of the conference standings, the Purple Eagles must adopt a Faustin hallmark and establish a new identity based on defensive toughness. Faustin's infusion of new energy will certainly make a difference and perhaps even improve the Purple Eagles record from last season, but no one can expect much more.