LORETTO - Whether it's in the regular season or in the NCAA Tournament, it's been a coaching dream for Joe Haigh to be an underdog and knock off a major conference opponent.
The 40-year-old Puyallup, Wash., native will finally get his chance.
Haigh was named head coach of the St. Francis women's basketball team Wednesday afternoon, becoming the seventh coach - the first male at the helm - in the program's 45-year history.
"It's unbelievable," said Haigh, who spent the last four seasons as Susan Robinson Fruchtl's top assistant. "It's been a great four years here. My kids are happy. We love the area.
"The program, the history of it - it's been successful. There are a ton of people out there that would like to be in my position."
Haigh beat out a field of a "primarily regional pool of candidates" for the position, according to St. Francis athletic director Bob Krimmel.
Ultimately, though, it's what Haigh has done as an assistant for the Red Flash that led the selection committee to its decision.
"We wanted the best for St. Francis," Krimmel said. "We wanted someone that knew our team. That's a critical part - all of the pieces that are in place as a result of the recruiting he has done.
"Joe has the faith, he has the connection to the community. It's just a great fit, and he wants to be at St. Francis. I couldn't be happier for him with the way the process has played out for him. The women will work hard for him, and he'll work hard for them as well."
Krimmel and Haigh met with the team to deliver the news Wednesday evening at the Stokes Center.
A 14-year coaching veteran at the collegiate, high school and club levels, Haigh worked primarily with wing players under Robinson Fruchtl and also served as recruiting coordinator.
"I am absolutely thrilled for Joe and Sherri and their family," Robinson Fruchtl said in a statement released by the university. "Joe is a perfect fit for St. Francis and has embraced it ever since stepping on campus four years ago. His family has really become a part of the community and that says a lot about him as a person."
Prior to his arrival in Loretto, he spent two years handling the daily administrative duties as the Director of Basketball Operations at Virginia Commonwealth, which included coordinating and planning all basketball summer team and skills camps and team travel, as well as overseeing film exchange, the recruiting database, academic affairs and video editing.
Haigh's wife, Sherri (Orlosky), played basketball for four years at Notre Dame and is ranked in the top 10 all-time in 3-point and free-throw percentage.
The Haighs have five children: Anna (11), Teresa (9), Patrick (7), Daniel (5) and Mary (2).
"My kids are really happy," the new coach said. "When they saw that Susan was leaving, they were really hoping we didn't have to move. They love the school, they love their school. This really made their day."
The Red Flash reclaimed their status as a small-school dynasty during Haigh's time in Loretto, compiling a 68-60 overall record and a 47-25 mark against Northeast Conference opponents over the past four seasons. In 2009-10 and 2010-11, St. Francis earned its two most recent NEC titles and NCAA Tournament berths.
More importantly, he knows the players, the recruits and the other personnel in the league.
"I must have done something right in the time I've been here," Haigh said. "All of the familiarity wouldn't mean anything if I wasn't doing my job before. It's an advantage of getting the job now because of how good Susan was and how the players responded and how successful they were."
"It's not getting any easier in the NEC because we've got excellent coaches in the conference," Krimmel said.
Not much will change when the Flash take the floor next season, but Haigh will continuously work in his own system while modifying the one put in place by Robinson Fruchtl.
"We intend to continue to be an attacking team," Haigh said. "The goal will be to score over 70 points a game and make it hard for people to come into [DeGol Arena] to play us. We want to stay a fast-paced team.
"People should still recognize who we are. Playing style, hopefully we'll still be as exciting as we have been in the past. When we're playing well, we've been one of the most exciting teams in the league."
The expectations for the program will stay the same, though.
"We expect to be good next year," Haigh said. "The rest of the league is very good. We could have one of the best teams ever next year and still not win the league because the whole conference is competitive. It's a lot of pressure because we're expected to win a championship every year. I expect that, too.
"My personality is different than Susan's. I may go about things a little differently, but the expectations will still be that we will be the hardest working team in the league. I still expect everyone to work as hard as it took to get from the bottom to the top. We have to work that hard to stay there."
Questions surrounded former St. Francis standout Stacy Alexander's interest in the position, but Haigh, who has communicated with the former Towson associate head coach for several years, confirmed that Alexander has concluded her coaching career.
"I've known Stacy since before I got [to St. Francis]," Haigh said. "I was at VCU and in the [Colonial Athletic Association]. I think she's a great coach. She was available since she left her job at Towson. She was the first phone call I made this afternoon to see if she would be interested in coming back home and being an assistant. But she is getting out of coaching and moving on with her life.
"I would have loved to have her up here. I tried, but she's done with coaching for now."