Former Flash women’s coach not surprised by team

HAMDEN, Conn. – There’s a great sense of pride when it comes to being a part of the St. Francis women’s basketball program.

There’s a storied tradition, a rich history.

And with that come high expectations.

The Red Flash met their second goal of the season Wednesday night – reaching the Northeast Conference championship game. There’s at least one more goal in sight.

But St. Francis coach Joe Haigh said it best following his team’s first win at Sacred Heart in eight years in the conference semifinals: “We’re St. Francis. We expect to be in championship games.”

Even former coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl, who left St. Francis at the end of last season to take the women’s head coaching position at Providence College, feels that way.

“I think it’s awesome. And honestly it’s where they should be,” she said. “I think everybody that has been involved with Red Flash women’s basketball – from Myndi Hill to Jenny Przekwas – I think we’re all very proud. We are all glad to be a part of the success there over the years.

“There are great people there. We want to see them do well.”

Haigh, who was an assistant to Robinson Fruchtl for four years, has the Red Flash playing in the program’s 15th NEC title game on Sunday, trying to build on its league-best 11 crowns. It is the team’s fourth appearance in five years.

Quinnipiac, on the other hand, is playing in only its second championship and has yet to win and advance to the Big Dance.

The Bobcats hold a trump card of sorts – an 18-0 NEC regular season record – and are one win from a 21-game sweep.

“I think this team is really talented and very deep,” Robinson Fruchtl said of the Red Flash. “I think it all depends on leadership for Sunday. I know Quinnipiac is undefeated in the conference, but from an athletic standpoint and a talent standpoint, I would say it’s pretty even from what I know.”

Robinson Fruchtl began her head coaching career at St. Francis in 2007.

She amassed a 74-83 record (50-40 in the NEC) in five years, guided the team to three NEC championship games, won two titles and made two NCAA Tournament appearances, had a 20-win season and won the regular season championship in 2010-11, and was named the 2011 Coach of the Year.

In her first season at Providence, the Friars were 7-22 overall and 2-14 in the loaded Big East.

“This year was very similiar to my first year at St. Francis,” Robinson Fruchtl said, referring to the Red Flash’s 6-23 record in 2007-08. “It was tough, but at the same time we learned a lot. We’ll get better.”

But even after moving on to a major conference, she still paid attention to what was happening in Loretto. She even met with Haigh and some of the team during their road trip to Bryant during the last weekend of the regular season.

“I’ve followed them through Twitter and just looking up scores,” Robinson Fruchtl said. “I had a lot of great relationships. Some of those kids I’ve known for four or five years now, and obviously Joe was my right-hand person for several years. I definitely want to keep tabs on them and I want to wish them nothing but the best.”

Wednesday’s semifinal win for the Flash didn’t surprise Robinson Fruchtl, but she knew the program was due for a victory in Fairfield, Conn.

St. Francis’ last win there was in 2005, in Jill Poe’s second season.

“While I was there, we had never beaten Sacred Heart at Sacred Heart,” Robinson Fruchtl said. “We had won there against other teams [quarterfinal and semifinal rounds in 2009] – some of those kids have won on that court, but never have beaten Sacred Heart. That was a big win just because they have never done that.”

And Robinson Fruchtl has a good feeling about Sunday, too.

“I think they can win,” she said. “It’s going to be hard on the road, but I think they certainly can win.”