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  • John Barnes

10 Reasons to Watch Fairfield Women's Basketball in 2024-2025

1) Can the Stags give an encore?

Fairfield racked up the most remarkable season in program history. They won 31 games, 29 in a row, the MAAC regular season and postseason championships, and a first-ever Top 25 ranking. Coach Carly Thibault-Dudonis knows that following up on that success is crucial. How does Fairfield University produce an encore?


First, they signed Thibault-Dudonis to a three-year contract extension before the NCAA Tournament in March. Thibault-Dudonis has elevated the team to national recognition in two seasons as Head Coach. With that profile come big expectations for 2024-25. 


“We’re still hungry. Not being complacent will be my biggest message,” said Thibault-Dudonis. “Human nature is we can show up and it will happen again. That’s not the case. This team fought for each other every single day, and we have to continue doing what we have been doing.”


2) Nellie Brown is back.

The 2023-24 MAAC Player of the Year announced she would return for another season. With Brown running the show, the Stags have their heartbeat in place. Brown was one of the most efficient guards in the country, leading all guards with a .571 field-goal percentage.


“She’s a freight train,” said Thibault-Dudonis. “She can get endline to endline in about three seconds. Her ability to do that makes it hard when she’s got great scorers around her, and people have to pick their poison who to guard.”


Off the court, Brown directs the team as well. 

 

“She is our emotional leader and as competitive as they come,” said Thibault-Dudonis. “She has figured out how to channel that to move the needle with her teammates. It’s easy to be competitive and not know how to bring others with you. She has grown to lead her teammates.” 


3) Taking the next step

During her first-year season, Meghan Andersen played like a seasoned veteran. She won 11 MAAC Rookie of the Week awards and received the unanimous MAAC Rookie of the Year award. 


“Offensively, she was a mismatch nightmare because she could play inside and out,” said Thibault-Dudonis. 


Andersen finished 11th in scoring nationally for rookies and was the only first-year player in the country to average 15.0 points per game, 50% FG shooting, and make two threes per game. The jump from high school to college was a smashing success. Next up is the transition from first-year student to sophomore. 


“She still has a lot of room to grow, continuing to get stronger and compete in the paint,” said Thibault-Dudonis. “I think that’s her biggest jump this offseason.”


Classmate Kaety L’Amoreaux also hopes to take the next step. L’Amoreaux racked up 58 threes, tied with fellow guard Kendall McGruder and only behind Andersen’s 66 for team best. 


“Her range is anywhere after midcourt,” said Ivey Speight, Fairfield University’s assistant director of athletics/communications and video. “She’s not afraid to shoot it, which is rare for a young player.”


4) The State of Basketball

The University of Connecticut has long dominated headlines in the Constitution State. However, will the school, which is just over 81 miles southwest of Storrs, CT, keep building appeal for basketball-crazed fans? UCONN coach Geno Auriemma took note. Fairfield hopes fans and more national media continue finding out about the Stags.


“It’s an honor to be a part of the national conversation in women’s basketball, particularly in a state with such great basketball,” said Thibault-Dudonis. 


She knows first-hand about Connecticut’s passion for basketball. Thibault-Dudonis moved to Connecticut from Wisconsin in seventh grade after her father, Mike Thibault, became Head Coach for the WNBA Connecticut Sun. Coach Carly picked up the sport in Connecticut and excelled as a player at East Lyme High School before heading to play collegiately at Monmouth. Her roots run deep in her school’s state. 


“Moving out here, I saw it was a hotbed for women’s basketball because of UCONN,” said Thibault-Dudonis. “That’s where my love for basketball developed.” 


Now, a Connecticut native has put Fairfield University into the spotlight, sharing coverage with the Huskies and growing a fanbase hungry for more. 


“It’s a fun environment because the community is so into it,” said Thibault-Dudonis. “They’re fully invested in our team and our women as individuals. It makes it even more meaningful when it’s bigger than wins and losses.”


5) Red Sea Rising

The three letters dominating talk around college campuses: NIL. Fairfield has responded to the Stags’ historic season with significant buy-in from alums. Fairfield supporters launched Red Sea Rising, an official collective and Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) entity to support Fairfield student-athletes. The collective will work with industry-leading Student-Athlete Name, Image, and Likeness (“SANIL“). 


“We are excited to announce Red Sea Rising to the outstanding fans and supporters of Fairfield University and its athletic teams,” said Jason Belzer, CEO of SANIL. “Our vision is to empower Fairfield University student-athletes through engagement with fans and collaboration with local businesses and national brands. It‘s our hope that we can harness the passion of Fairfield fans and alumni to provide unprecedented opportunities for Fairfield student-athletes.“ 


What can this venture do to elevate the profile of Fairfield women’s basketball? The answer is still to be seen. Nevertheless, the program has never had more buzz around it. Capitalizing on that interest, on and off the court, is part of the snowball effect that can turn one great season into a sustained period of success.


6) Star coach in waiting?

Carly Thibault-Dudonis does not just have talent on the court. She has it sitting next to her. 


Assistant Coach Erika Brown was named to the Women‘s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Thirty Under 30 list, recognizing the 30 up-and-coming women‘s basketball coaches at all game levels. 


“Erika has a profound impact on anyone she comes in contact with our student-athletes, coaching staff, athletic department, and community,” Head Coach Carly Thibault-DuDonis said. “She has an infectious positive energy, is incredibly passionate and purposeful in her work and relationships and leads with love. I am honored to work alongside her every single day.


“She brings a fierceness, intensity, confidence, and the team really feeds off of it,” said Speight.


Brown oversees defensive coordinator responsibilities and pushes the undersized Stags to play intense defense. The results from last season show players that the effort pays off. 


“I think we’re one of the toughest teams in the MAAC because of Coach Brown,” said Speight. “Her attitude has made the team mentally and physically tough.”



7) Meep Meep 

When looking at the Stags’ roster, you might think of Looney Tunes. The team lists two positions: guard and road runner. What is a road runner? A guard/forward combo player who can play inside but stretches the defense with three-point shooting and perimeter play. The 2023-24 team employed six road runners who contributed as much on defense as on offense. 


“We’re not your typical forwards or posts,” said Emina Selimovic, who averaged 9.8 ppg and over 5 rebounds per game last season. “We have length inside, we have our game, but we can also run the floor and stretch the floor, and that’s what a roadrunner is.” 


“I challenged my husband (Blake), who’s my post coach, to build an identity into something that group can really buy into,” said Thibault-Dudonis. “He came up with that road runner concept and because we’re working with 18–22-year-olds, we had to tell and show them what a road runner is.” 


Building with road runners is deliberate because it allows Fairfield to play smaller, five-person out lineups that lead to faster action and frequent three-point shots. The Stags put up 877 threes last season, tied for 12th most nationally. 


“We want to win games in the NCAA tournament,” said Thibault-Dudonis. “A lot of the teams that have done that from a mid-major standpoint are teams that play five out and have post players that can stretch out to the perimeter and take out bigger slower bigs that might be at the power five level.” 


The thinking behind the position shows serious basketball analysis and an eye on history. However, the team has some fun with the name by integrating its patriarch’s famous sound effects. 


“When we say guard post breakdown, we actually say guard meeps because ‘road runners’ is a little bit of a mouthful,” said Thibault-Dudonis. “So, they’re the meeps.” 


8) New faces 

The Stags signed two players for the class of 2028 back in November, Cyanne John and Julia Karpell. The Canadian-born John won the Ontario Basketball Association Defensive Player of the Year award, racking up 63 steals and 32 blocks. John comes in as 2023-24 leading rebounder Mackenzie Daleba graduates.


“Cyanne will be a road runner for us,” said Thibault-Dudonis. “She can guard multiple positions, she’s very athletic and will help us rebounding. That was a hole we needed to fill.”


Karpell joins the team after a stellar high school career at Saint John Vianney in New Jersey. She made 56 three-pointers during her senior season and expects a similar role to that of the Stags, who lost a primary three-point threat with Nicole Gallagher graduating. 


“We know that wing spot is an area we need to fill both with Jules and transfers,” said Thibault-Dudonis. “We needed more depth shooting the ball.”


9) If you build it, they will come

The Stags went 14-0 at home last season. They have not lost at Leo D. Mahoney arena since an overtime defeat on February 11, 2023. Postgame celebrations happen often, and the players share their enthusiasm with fans. 


“After every game, they go into the crowd, they take pictures, sign autographs, give hugs, said Thibault-Dudonis. “They love on our fans, and it’s developed as a home base people love coming to.”


The arena opened on November 18, 2022, and holds 3,500 seats on the heart of Fairfield’s campus. 


“It’s a perfect size for our community where it’s not too big, feels intimate, loud, and high energy. It’s a great homecourt advantage.”


The Stags have created a fan-friendly home formula that keeps people coming back. When you add winning to the mix, it will continue to make Mahoney Arena a nightmare for visiting teams.


“The culture the team’s built is a connection, energy, and toughness,” said Speight. “I think those are personality traits people love cheering for.”

 


10) All in the Family 

To say basketball runs in the Thibault family would be an understatement. Coach Carly has no shortage of people to lean on and call if she wants to talk shop, starting with her dad. Mike Thibault is the winningest coach in WNBA history, with 212 victories. He coached the Connecticut Sun before winning a WNBA championship 2019 with the Washington Mystics. He retired in 2022 and saw his Associate Head Coach and son, Eric, take over the Mystics. Coach Carly’s husband, Blake, has coached for years, and the two met at an Ohio gym while scouting players. Thibault-Dudonis seems destined to coach and has balanced her style with feedback from her wealth of coaching resources. 


“My family has had a huge influence, which is an understatement,” said Thibault-Dudonis. “So much of how I see the game is from the lens of player development, scoring efficiency, and the type of player we bring here.” 


She takes pro-level concepts from her dad and brother, specifically with an emphasis on shooting. 


“We want this to be shooters U,” said Thibault-Dudonis. “That’s something I’ve carried from my brother and dad. The more people that can shoot the ball, the better.”


With all that family knowledge, Thibault-Dudonis has built a specific style and identity for Fairfield. The unprecedented success has created more buzz around the team than ever before. With as much excitement around the players, people around the program know they have someone special on the sidelines. As much as Thibault-Dudonis focuses on skills, player development, and concepts, she values one word more than anything else. 


“I will put culture above everything,” said Thibault-Dudonis. “That comes first, and wins follow.”

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