For the first time since Mar. 7, 2020, the women’s basketball team will take the court today when it visits the Fairfield University Stags.
Head Coach Monique LeBlanc was hired Apr. 10, 2020, after the resignation of previous head coach Sarah Behn, but has not yet coached the Bears in a single game, as Brown’s 2020-21 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. LeBlanc did not even get to watch the whole team practice together until Sept. 2021.
“I was spending that time trying to continue to learn our players and learn about Brown in general,” LeBlanc said. “We still make jokes about how I was a year into working here, and I wasn't sure where certain buildings were on campus.”
The Bears earned an 8-19 record in the 2019-20 season and finished at the bottom of the Ivy League standings. This season, Brown was picked to finish last in the conference in the Ivy League Women’s Basketball Preseason Poll. Still, as she begins her Brown coaching career, LeBlanc is determined to guide her young team in forging a winning identity.
“In this first year, I think that we’re trying to continue to establish our identity and culture as a program,” LeBlanc said. “I think that we’re going to have a good grasp on our growth, and that’s really the goal every day.”
LeBlanc emphasized high standards as a part of the team’s culture, especially in how the team does “all of the little things.” LeBlanc said the team stays away from grading practices based on whether or not the “ball went in more,” but rather based on “how much we feel like we’re living our culture every day.”
“The type of culture we’re trying to establish (is that) I want our student-athletes in women’s basketball to take a lot of pride in how they operate and navigate their daily life as a women’s basketball player,” LeBlanc added.
Forward Ashley Ducharme ’22, who averaged a team-leading 5.6 rebounds per game in the 2019-20 season, felt “lucky to have the new coaching staff,” and cited the new culture the staff has set.
“They've really been leading our program and holding us to high standards, which is exciting because we know we can work hard and meet those standards,” Ducharme said.
As the Bears’ only senior, Ducharme’s experience is “unique,” she described. But the new coaching staff, players and culture on the women’s basketball team mean Ducharme still has more to learn.
“We have ten new players and a whole new coaching staff, so even being the only senior, we’re all learning the coaches’ new defense and offense and lineups,” Ducharme said. “I feel like we’re all coming in (as equals).”
The team’s youth is in part due to the fact that both sophomores and first-year athletes have yet to play a game for the Bears, meaning only seven of the 17 players on the roster have played. Guard Kyla Jones ’24 said the young team is bound to make mistakes, but it is more important how they “react and adapt to those mistakes.”
“Usually when you come into a season as a sophomore, you have a little bit of experience under your belt,” Jones said. “I feel like we’ve all been working well together, and everybody is just trying to be leaders in their own way.”
Even with a younger team, LeBlanc wants to empower her players through a more concept-based, five-out offense. The five-out offense involves positioning all five players around the three-point line as they organize their attack. LeBlanc’s desire for the team to be different “aligns with Brown as a university,” she said.
“Just like they can select classes they think (they) will be good at or that they’ll engage with, I think our offense allows that for our players,” LeBlanc said. “They can shine in different ways, and they can showcase their skill set in different ways.”
Defensively, the team will play a “really aggressive” two-three zone — two players in the backcourt and three players in the frontcourt — another way LeBlanc hopes to separate the Bears from the rest of their competition.
“We really want to fly around and make teams uncomfortable by just being different and being a different zone than they’ve played against,” LeBlanc said.
Jones believes the “really fun team” can make strides this year in improving the women’s basketball program by “moving up (in the rankings) and being a lot better than (it was) in the past.”
According to LeBlanc, the team can improve every day if it concentrates on “maximizing (its) potential” and staying “really focused on (its) process and not just the outcome.”
Ducharme added that the team does not “want to take anything for granted because (it knows) how much (it) missed being on the floor last year together.”
“We’re looking to prove people wrong,” Ducharme said. “We’ve been working really hard, and we’re gonna come out there and give it all we have every time we step on the floor.”