SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Before the start of Friday’s MAAC women’s quarterfinals at MassMutual Center, Corinne Jones gathered her Niagara players together for a talk. It wasn’t about X’s and O’s.
“I talked to them about family and sacrifice,” said Jones, a Purple Eagles assistant coach. “That’s what it’s about.”
Back in Buffalo, Kendra Faustin was a living example. Faustin, Niagara’s head coach, did not accompany her team to the tournament. She stayed home to take care of her infant son, Blake, who was born on Feb. 27.
Jones moved to the head coach’s chair, as she had early in the 2011-12 season when Faustin had her first child. Jones and assistants Mark Katarski and Brittany Parker guided the Purple Eagles to a 59-54 win over Rider, moving them into today’s semifinals against Marist.
“I knew pretty early when she was due,” Jones said, “so I was prepared for the due date to be around this time. We started talking with our leaders in November, so that we would be prepared for this.
“You just have to step up,” she said. “There’s no other choice. You have to move a chair over and do what the team needs.”
Niagara has only one senior. But it has strong veteran leadership in juniors Lauren Gatto and Kayla Stroman. Jones, who was an assistant at UB for two years before joining Faustin’s staff, had previous experience as a head coach at Genesee Community College.
The Eagles responded well, opening up a 17-point lead early in the second half. Things got scary late when Rider crept within three, but Niagara hung on.
“At this point in the season, we know what we have to do,” said sophomore Meghan McGuinness. “Coach Jones does a great job. She knows what Coach Faustin wants. With or without her, we know what we have to do.”
Now comes the hard part. At 11:30 a.m., the Eagles play a Marist team that has won seven consecutive MAAC titles. The Red Foxes, under coach Brian Giorgis, haven’t lost a MAAC tourney game since the final to Canisius in Buffalo in 2005.
“Tomorrow’s another game,” Jones said. “We have nothing to lose. We’ve been here before. We played Marist twice this season. We know what to expect as staff and team. We’re going to be ready.”
Jones said she texts Faustin constantly.
“I have a husband of my own and we’d love to have kids,” Jones said. “I’m going to call her up and say, ‘Hey Kendra, how did you do this? Can you help me and can you give me advice?’ ”