With third straight regular season championship in tow, Tricia Fabbri and Quinnipiac seek to add to their haul this weekend in MAAC Tournament. (Photo by the Hartford Courant)
When you have won 75 games in conference play over the last three-plus seasons and reached your tournament championship game each year in the league, the expectation for success becomes greater.
It is an even finer line to balance the birthright feeling of being there and the blessing to have an opportunity to add to what has already been accomplished, yet Tricia Fabbri has been able to not only walk across that balance beam, but run a 40-yard dash in the process.
Having concluded the regular season at 17-3 in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play and acquitted themselves well after a minor hiccup at the beginning of February, Fabbri's Quinnipiac program is back in familiar territory as they converge upon Albany for this year's MAAC tournament, which opens at noon Friday in the quarterfinals against Canisius, who needed an overtime win over rival Niagara to earn themselves a date with the top-seeded Bobcats.
"It's been a fun one," Fabbri said of the season to date. "We find ourselves right where we want to be. It's been a great journey, We've had an incredible non-conference season, we've had great wins on the road with Dayton, we had a great tournament out west, we came back and were neck-and-neck with Rider. We've had some losses and adversity that we've pulled through and answered, which is what you want. You want to be tested."
The Bobcats have had one constant in their remarkable run, a glut of depth at each position that is perpetually replenished. But this season saw a younger team last season mature into greater roles on both ends of the floor, and the return of Jen Fay from a torn ACL has given Quinnipiac one more piece to their already extensive repertoire.
"I just think it's interesting because we're still young, but I just like that we have that experience," said Fabbri of the makeup of her roster, which lost only one regular player in the rotation last year when Maria Napolitano graduated. "We're still trying to just get better. There's still parts of our game that we can improve on, and we definitely have plans in practice where we've got to get better at."
Fay, a third team all-MAAC honoree in her first full season back on the floor, has been more than just an extra cog in the machine. The Long Island native has been equal parts scorer and facilitator on the wing alongside Aryn McClure and Paula Strautmane, and perhaps the most potent X-factor on an already dangerous team.
"She's versatile, so talented, and she could do things with the ball inside and out," Fabbri said. "But the best thing about her is just that she loves basketball, her IQ on the floor and her ability to make every play. Where we've struggled this year is making the play right in front of us. She's able to make the play right in front of us, and that helps us be at our best."
Behind every great team is a great point guard, and the loss of Napolitano would be a lot for any program to overcome. But Quinnipiac is far from just any program, though, and the senior leadership of Adily Martucci in piloting the Bobcats has been beyond exceptional.
"There's no doubt she has picked up exactly what Maria had left with her graduation," said Fabbri of Martucci, with a noticeable admiration evident in her tone. "People keep asking me, 'You have all these players with all this experience and all this leadership. Who's your go-to?' I think it's pretty evident."
"In a clutch situation, she has come through and answered for us time and again. We're going to continue to her, and you know what's really nice? In practice, when you say 'give me someone who's gonna make two free throws,' I have to tell her, 'no, you're not going up to take the two free throws.' She wants it, and it's nice to know the whole team is going to be clutch in those situations in times like this."
And after an uncharacteristic pair of back-to-back losses against Iona and Fairfield, the Bobcats have retooled into the unit that looks unstoppable when firing on all cylinders. The key in adjusting, though, was noticing what went wrong and fixing it on the fly, and most importantly recognizing that an already championship-caliber team was still not at its best.
"We've changed parts of our game where we lost, and we've had to make adjustments as coaches," Fabbri admitted. "It's made us better, and we still see areas of our game where we need to go back and get better. That's the beauty of this game, having players who are familiar and experienced, who know what they want and stay hungry every step of the way. It's put me in a great position to not have to motivate and know what we're chasing."