Ali Jaques’ parents have been in the Capital Region all week because Hurricane Sandy knocked out the power at their home in rural New Jersey, and they’ll attend her head coaching debut on Friday.
There promises to be no lack of electricity there, at least.
Jaques and the Siena’s women’s basketball team will open the 2012-13 season against Fairleigh Dickinson with the first game of a 5 p.m. double-header that also features the Siena men against Vermont at the Times Union Center.
After eight straight losing seasons under long-time head coach Gina Castelli, Jaques, most recently an assistant under Joe McKeown at Northwestern, was hired in April.
She characterizes herself as a role player who had to “scratch and claw and find a way to get on the court” when she helped New York University win the 1997 Division III national championship. Jaques’ goal at Siena is to get her team, which will play a high-intensity defense designed to get the running game going, to match that ferocity.
“[Siena president] Father Kevin [Mullen] was talking to my dad, and I thought, ‘Oh, this could go any way.’ ” Jaques said with a laugh. “Father Kevin said something about our team diving on the floor for loose balls, and my dad said, ‘I don’t know much about my daughter as a basketball coach, but they’ll be sitting next to her on the bench if they aren’t [diving for loose balls].’
“That’s all I know.”
Jaques said she and her staff will need more time to get the pieces of their puzzle to fit, but in the meantime, Siena, which finished 12-17 with a loss to Fairfield in the MAAC quarterfinals, has a solid foundation in the form of Lily Grenci.
The only senior on the team, she was an all-MAAC first-team selection last year, when she was second in the conference in scoring (15.2 points per game) and third in rebounding (7.8).
“Each post player brings something different, and when you have Lily, she brings so much experience, and she’s very skilled,” Jaques said. “She’s proven that she can step away from the basket and shoot it, maybe better than she ever has in her career.”
The starting lineup should include Colonie High graduate Tehresa Coles, a sophomore who grew up just down the road in Loudonville and started the last 22 games as a freshman.
On Tuesday, Jaques pointedly made the distinction that her defense — called “Blizzard” — is not a zone, it’s a 1-1-3 matchup that forces pressure on the ball.
Coles will be a key component in that scheme, Jaques said.
“Although she’s a sophomore, she plays with an energy that I can’t even put into words at times,” Jaques said. “She plays so hard that she makes up for her lack of experience.
“In some ways, we might be a little inexperienced, but our effort, especially defensively, makes up for that. I’ll live with mistakes. Great teams depend on each other, and people step up for other people, so it’s going to be a process.”
The Saints buried King’s College, 81-27, in an exhibition game on Monday, outrebounding King’s, 74-28.
Although it was a severe mismatch, some promising developments for Siena emerged, especially the play of freshman forward Symone Kelly, who played for nationally ranked St. Anthony’s.
She had 11 points and 10 rebounds in 15 minutes.
“Symone’s really impressed us every day,” Jaques said. “When you’re a freshman, sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know, so I’d like to keep her kind of naive, because if she can just bring that kind of impact and energy on to the court every time, it’s really going to raise the level of our game.
“She’s a physical player, she wants to post up, she’s aggressive, she plays hard, she’s diving all over the floor. She’s got bruises and bandages everywhere, and she’s proud of them.”
Jaques said her defense is modeled after the way McKeown-coached teams play.
She also was an assistant to him at George Washington.
“It’s an up-tempo, pressing, high-energy style,” she said. “That lends itself to use a lot of people, and we have a lot of different pieces to the puzzle, offensively, but defensively, it’s hard to play at that pace for 40 minutes. I like our depth, and I’d like to use it as much as possible.
“It’s not a zone. You’re not allowed to say ‘zone’ in my gym, OK? We make a lot of different slides out of it, it’s a very high-pressure defense. What I like about it is you can tailor it to the personnel you have. We’ve made some adjustments with what we have. We like to get after people and try to control the pace of the game.”
Jaques, who has been featured on a billboard on Route 9, was an assistant at six different schools before landing her first head coaching job at Siena.
She said she’s looking for suggestions on a new keyword, because she’s been throwing “exciting” around way too much.
But it’s hard to blame her for being eager to finally start the season and see if she can turn around the program.
“The biggest pressure is the pressure I’m going to put on myself,” Jaques said. “That’s how I’ve always been. I haven’t looked at the schedule and tried to count wins. That’s impossible with the way a season evolves. There’s probably only one person upstairs that knows how it’s going to end, and it’s not me. All we can do is focus on the process of getting better every day.”
(Home games all caps)
5 — KING’S COLLEGE (exhibition), 7; 9 — FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON, 5*; 13 — at Pittsburgh, 1; 17 — at Rhode Island, 2; 20 — NORTH CAROLINA A&T, 11 a.m.; 24 — at Binghamton, 4; 28 — at Seton Hall, 7.
1 — UALBANY, 5*; 5 — MAINE, 6; 22 — DAYTON, 1; 28 — at UMass, 7; 30 — at Sacred Heart, 1.
4 — at Canisius, 11 a.m.; 6 — at Niagara, 2 p.m.; 10 — FAIRFIELD, 7; 13 — MANHATTAN, noon*; 17 — at Saint Peter’s, 6; 20 — LOYOLA, 1; 25 — at Fairfield, 7; 28 — at Marist, 7; 31 — IONA, 7.
2 — at Loyola, 2; 8 — at Manhattan, 7; 10 — MARIST, 2; 15 — RIDER, 7; 17 — NIAGARA, 2; 22 — SAINT PETER’S, 7; 24 — at Iona, 2.
1 — at Rider, 7; 3 — CANISIUS, 2; 7-11 — MAAC tournament, at Springfield, Mass.
* At Times Union Center.