Fahey debuts with a win: 'That's what we came to do'

Fahey debuts with a win: 'That's what we came to do'

CHAMPAIGN — No buzzer-beater from halfcourt. No big comeback. Nothing dramatic in Nancy Fahey's first game as Illinois coach.

Just a win: 64-50 against Fort Wayne at State Farm Center in front of 1,148.

"That's what we came to do (Friday)," Fahey said.

Her new/old boss Josh Whitman talked to Fahey before the game. They worked together at Washington University before Whitman took over as athletic director at his alma mater.

"Josh said some things to me before the game that I told him I will always remember," Fahey said. "It was good to hear. And I think Illinois is in a good place with his leadership. In fact, I know it's in a good place."

Winning is nothing new for Fahey. She piled up 737 of them and won five national titles at Division III Washington University.

Still, this was different. Her first game coaching in the Big Ten. Her first time at State Farm Center.

"I walked into State Farm and you look around, we've been practicing there, but just to walk in on gameday, I was a bit in awe," Fahey said. "I'd like to say 'Oh, another game.' It wasn't another game. It was a special game, and I feel very fortunate and blessed that I got the chance to be here today."

Fahey mentioned her first game in coaching at Johnsburg High School.

"I started in a high school gym and got drilled by 40 points," Fahey said. "I remember thinking I didn't even want to coach anymore.

"It is a different feeling. I hope that my experience does add something to this program."

The players were happy for Fahey. And for themselves.

"It feels good to just have a win," said Brandi Beasley, who shared the team lead with 13 points. "We actually love her as a coach. She's a great person. When we go out there, we play hard because we know she cares for us."

"She's a proven winner," senior Alli Ball said. "Winning is something she does all the time. For us, it's awesome to be in an Illinois jersey and get that first win for her."

Ball, a senior transfer from Akron, tied Beasley for game-high scoring honors with 13 and shared the team high with seven rebounds.

"I knew she was a shooter," Fahey said. "But what I really did notice was her ability to rebound. I walked down the bench and I said 'That's how you get my attention.' "

Ball didn't know what to expect in her first game.

"For me, just embracing my role and playing my role off the bench was definitely one thing I went into the game thinking about," she said. "It felt really good."

The Illini don't have much time to celebrate the win. They travel to play at Florida Gulf Coast on Sunday.

"I'm always excited to play," Beasley said. "It feels good to go out and get to play some other teams."

"Sure, this is a challenge," Fahey said. "These kids are so ready to play another game."