LORETTO - For the past four seasons, Joe Haigh could be found standing along the baseline on the window end of DeGol Arena prior to St. Francis women's basketball games.
The then-assistant coach would bite his fingernails and most times have a can of soda in his hand, all while trying to calm his nerves before the Red Flash tipped off.
It's hard to imagine what he will do this season as the new head coach.
Mirror photos by J.D. Cavrich
New St. Francis womens basketball coach Joe Haigh and Brittany Lilley speak Monday.
In his first public speaking setting as a head coach, Haigh nervously addressed the crowd Monday afternoon at the John F. Kennedy Student Center during St. Francis' media day, but his witty humor was enough of an icebreaker to settle him into a situation that will become more routine as the year - and his career - progresses.
"I am a little nervous, but I've been nervous with these guys before games and stuff," Haigh said. "I'm probably a lot more comfortable inside than I act on the outside, if that makes any sense.
"This - I'm not quite - I don't have the most experienced at this. I'm a bit more comfortable in the gym."
Coach: Joe Haigh, first season
Record last season: 14-16, 11-7 Northeast Conference
Starters returning: F Alli Williams, 6-0 Jr. (16.9), G Alexa Hayward, 5-8 So. (9.9), G Nickia Gibbs, 5-8 Sr. (10.7), G Brittany Lilley, 5-8 R-Sr. (12.8*), F Shene Fleming, 5-11 R-Jr. (7.4*).
Other key returning players: C Hope Phillips, 6-2 So. (1.6), C Rebecca Keegan, 6-2 Jr. (4.1), G Rhonda Watts, 5-8 Sr. (6.3), G Kelley Doogan, 5-10 Sr. (3.3).
Notes: The Red Flash were selected to finish fourth in the NEC preseason coaches poll. Quinnipiac was tabbed as the top team, with Sacred Heart second and Monmouth third. The is the first season Bryant will be eligible for the postseason in Division 1. Lilley and Fleming will not be 100 percent when the season starts, but just their presence and experience should benefit the team. Haigh's assistants included Tiffani Selhorst, Eddie Benton, Tenicha Gittens and graduate assistant and former SFU standout Allison Daly.
Record prediction: 18-11 overall, 13-5 NEC
*-statistics from 2010-11 season
While his experience at the podium was virtually nonexistent before Monday, Haigh's familiarity with the program and players certainly isn't lacking.
Haigh, who had an integral role in the Red Flash's recent success under former coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl, inherits a team peppered with talent.
Alli Williams enters her junior season fresh off of an impressive second year with the Flash. She was named to the All-Northeast Conference second team and finished fourth in the league with 16.9 points per game and was fifth with 8.8 rebounds per game.
NEC All-Rookie selection Alexa Hayward led the conference last season in 3-pointer made (63) as a freshman.
Seniors Nickia Gibbs, Rhonda Watts and Kelley Doogan are back, as is junior Rebecca Keegan.
But the biggest boost is the return of Brittany Lilley and Shene Fleming.
Both Lilley and Fleming - SFU leading scorers in 2010-11 - had season-ending injuries very early a year ago.
Lilley, a redshirt senior, was the 2011 NEC Tournament MVP and is ready for her final season with the Red Flash.
"To be completely honest, they say that, 'You don't know what you're missing until you can't do it anymore,'" Lilley said. "Especially speaking for Shene and myself, we can't wait to be back on the floor and playing in games. We missed out on a lot. But we are ready to step and take us to another championship this year. We won't settle for anything less."
And it's with that mentality and experience that Haigh is glad the two are back as well.
"Having the experience back is invaluable," he said. "Coaches will be prepared on the sidelines, but what happens in the game - you've got players that have played and won championship games, have been in key situations - having that extra experience brings a calm to the floor. That's something that we missed a lot last year.
"Having those two back on the floor will make it easier for everybody else on the team, too."
Wins this season won't necessarily be difficult to come by, but they will definitely be earned. Aside from the NEC continuously getting stronger each year, the St. Francis non-conference slate this year has no guaranteed wins.
"It can be tough," Haigh said. "We want to win non-conference games, but there are no easy games on the schedule. They are games to learn from. They will be very competitive games that will prepare us to play in close games.
"The Northeast Conference is tougher than what it was last year, and last year it was really tough. There are no gimmies on the NEC schedule now, either."
The Red Flash welcome Howard to Loretto on Nov. 9 to open the season. Akron and St. Joseph's are the only other two non-league opponents that will visit DeGol Arena this season.
St. Francis travels to Bucknell, Kent State, Duquesne, Colgate and opens the Wright State tournament with Florida A&M.
The Red Flash will also play at Ohio State and Notre Dame.
The Buckeyes are ranked No. 19 in the country, and the Irish - coming off back-to-back national championship game appearances - are No. 7.
"We're always going to play a tough out-of-conference schedule," Haigh said. "I want to play teams that when people look at your schedule, they say, 'Wow, these guys play everybody.' It's helpful in recruiting. People may not have heard about St. Francis much, but when they hear that we are playing Notre Dame and Ohio State and schools like that, that helps us out.
"They are very talented teams, but we're going to work on our style of play. The goals going into those games are to get better, compete every possession and do the best that we can."
And Haigh looks at the Flash playing eight of their 11 non-conference away from home as another positive that can only benefit his team.
"There's great experience to going on the road," he said. "Getting the chance to see some of the arenas and competing against the best, it's a great opportunity for these guys."
Even though he may still bite his nails during pregame warm-ups as a head coach, Haigh knows and understands the pressure that comes with the position.
And unlike coming in as an assistant to a program that was on the mend four short years ago, there is the added pressure to be successful right away, especially since the same program is back to being a perennial contender to win the NEC title.
"I think it's natural to feel that pressure. I ignore it, though," Haigh said. "You're supposed to win all of your games, and if you don't, you're not going to be too happy about it. We do have huge expectations, but our kids expect to win a championship. We all have that mentality now. We didn't have that four years ago. That's pretty cool to see.
"It's a great challenge, but it's a great opportunity, too. We're really looking forward to this season."