Wagner head coach Heather Jacobs and senior Jackie Dluhi represent Seahawks at Northeast Conference media day. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)
By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)
A year ago, Wagner women’s basketball struggled through a 5-24 season, including just three wins in Northeast Conference play, another long year for a program that has seen a succession of hard times.
A change was made in the offseason, and Heather Jacobs was entrusted to reverse the fortunes at the Staten Island school, to get a program on track that has not enjoyed a winning season since 2002-03.
Jacobs is known as an authoritarian type. Regardless, she is very personable and approachable. The authority label stems from her determination. When she sets out to do something, it is not about what ‘can be done,’ but what ‘will be done.’ In that regard, she has no doubt the tables will be turned at Wagner.
Jacobs has experienced championship head coaching success at both the Division III and Division II levels. She turned around Division III Daniel Webster College in New Hampshire, leading then to two New England College Conference runner-up spots. From there, it was off to Adelphi to take over a four-win program. Jacobs quickly got things on track. In her fifth year (2014-15) at Adelphi, she led the Panthers to their initial Northeast-10 championship and an outstanding 28-4 overall record. Her playing days at Franklin Pierce saw her excel as a two time Northeast-10 All-Academic selection. Now, her newest challenge is Division I.
The opening tip has yet to be tossed, yet Jacobs continues to make an impression. “It is a great change of pace with her on board,” said senior forward Jackie Dluhi. “We have worked hard, but enter the season so optimistic and excited.”
Optimism is a key word reverberating around the women’s program at Wagner these days. I had the opportunity for a question and answer session with Jacobs at the recent Northeast Conference media day, and the constant theme centered about what will transpire. As previously noted, not ‘if’ it will be done but ‘how and when’:
Ray Floriani: Your thoughts on assuming the position at Wagner?
Heather Jacobs: The academics, people and campus are just a few things at Wagner that are so positive. The minute I stepped on campus, that feeling was there. The people at Wagner want to win, and our goal is nothing short of (eventually) winning a Northeast Conference championship.
RF: You have varied experience at different levels of the game. How does that help you stepping up to Division I as a head coach?
HJ: The game doesn’t really change no matter what level you compete on. You deal with people, practices and academics. You are setting up a game plan to use against each opponent. Those things are evident on all levels of the game.
RF: What type style of play will you employ?
HJ: We want to defend and have discipline. Still, at the same time we want to push the ball. When you get up and down the floor, it is an attractive style for the players and it creates very good opportunities on the offensive end.
RF: Any surprises, individually or collectively, in your early practices?
HJ: As a group, I am pleasantly surprised by their ability to bounce back. They have been resilient and done all we as a staff have asked. That is so important as you try to change a program’s culture.
RF: There have been struggles in the past at Wagner. How does that affect your approach stepping into the situation?
HJ: It is important to focus on what happened here in the past, to an extent, but realize that is all behind us. The past is not a priority. You have to look and move on ahead. That is so important in changing a culture.
RF: Your feelings on the NEC as a basketball league?
HJ: It is a great league. For the fans it is one of the most exciting leagues around. Just look at the different teams that won the conference in recent years. You do not have a conference where one team dominates and wins year in and year out. That’s exciting for me as a coach and our student-athletes.