Fahey: 'I have to admit, I'm a little anxious'

Fahey: 'I have to admit, I'm a little anxious'

CHAMPAIGN — It has been a while since Nancy Fahey coached for the first time at a new college. Thirty-one years to be exact.

Back in 1986, her Washington University team opened with a 43-40 loss to Rochester (N.Y). The game was played at Cambridge, Mass., as part of the MIT Koch Co-Ed Classic. Fahey's first of 700-plus wins came in the next game — a 61-45 victory against MIT.

Today, Fahey opens her Big Ten career against Fort Wayne.

Is she nervous?

"The truth — sure," Fahey said.

"I have to admit, I am a little anxious. It's something the first time to step on the State Farm Center floor and lights are on. That's an appreciation for the position and the seriousness I take the job."

Her players want it to be a positive experience for Fahey.

"It's huge," junior guard Jaelyne Kirkpatrick said. "She comes from a winning program (five Division III national titles), and she really won't accept anything less.

"We want to come out there for each other, for our teammates, for ourselves, our families. But more important, for our coach.

"She's going to bring us a lot of passion this season. You can see it in how she coaches."

The Fahey system is a change for the Illini.

"We're getting there," Fahey said. "Our two scrimmages gave us some insight of how far we have to go. But those are teachable moments. I think we're making the progress we have to, but we're not done yet."

The first time out, Fahey wants to see her team compete. When fans leave the building, she hopes they "are proud of us. They are proud of our effort. That we never gave up. We played every second of every minute of that game."

In the week leading up to the opener, Fahey was still working on the starting lineup.

"You have to have anchors," Fahey said. "I understand people love starting, it's important. But you want to be in there when it counts. That's what they should be caring about."

Fahey said the players are buying into her system defensively.

"It's different than what they did in the past," Fahey said. "That growth there has been a good thing."

Fahey has watched plenty of Fort Wayne film going into today's game.

"They have a lot of new players on their team, so we've got to be ready to play our game and take care of our business," Fahey said.

Before tipoff, Fahey likes to spend some alone time.

"I make sure I've got my head in what I want done," Fahey said. "I don't try to close my door very much. Just a half-hour, I'm going to have my door closed."

Fahey's team will play four of its first five at home. The lone road trip comes up fast — the Illini will play Sunday at Florida Gulf Coast. After that, there are home games against Chicago State (Nov. 15), Bradley (Nov. 18) and Western Illinois (Nov. 21).