By Jonah Bronstein
Niagara Gazette — All season long, the Niagara women's basketball team has been dealing with expectations.
Picked to finish second in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and boast the league's best player, the Purple Eagles got off to a slow start and have only recently begun playing up to their potential.
And one great expectation has been growing by the day.
Niagara will wrap up its best regular season in eight years next weekend while its leader is laid up in the hospital watching the games online.
"I will try not to yell too loud," coach Kendra Faustin said, "and wake up all the babies in the nursery."
Faustin is due to deliver her second child on Wednesday. She coached the Purple Eagles as long as she could, standing on the sideline while her son hovered over the court during Sunday's 48-43 comeback win over Manhattan at the Gallagher Center.
"We were all a little worried he'd come early," said center Lauren Gatto, who scored a putback basket with 15 seconds left to seal the win.
With assistants Corrine Jones and Mark Kotarski taking the reigns this week, Faustin is now free to focus on preparing for her newborn's arrival.
"I should probably get the nursery done and get all those things taken care of," Faustin said. "I'm having a baby on Wednesday and all I could think about was (the next game)."
Faustin, 33, and her husband, R.J., welcomed son Callard 16 months ago after a heart-wrenching three-year struggle to conceive. She sat out the first six games of last season while Jones coached the team.
"It's a different time of year and it's a little easier in a lot of ways for our players," Faustin said. "It might be harder for our staff because it's crunch time, but for our players it's easier because our roles are solidified, our goals and expectations don't change. They are all set and very clear."
"We've been fully preparing for it as the season has gone on," Gatto said. "We have to keep taking care of business. Regardless of whether Coach Faustin is here, we have to win."
The Purple Eagles (14-13, 9-7) are feeling good about themselves after winning five of seven February games and rising to fourth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference standings. They are getting contributions from several different players, making them less reliant on all-conference point guard Kayla Stroman than they have been in season's past.
"We're in a really good spot and we're starting to gel and come together," Gatto said. "Things are really starting to flow."
Faustin will be out indefinitely after Wednesday, but hasn't yet ruled out being in Springfield for the MAAC tournament.
"If I feel like I can coach, I will go. If I feel like I can't coach, then I won't go," she said. "Same as if a player tweaks their ankle. You can either play or you can't. We don't want a half effort. And I don't want to give our team a half effort."
Doctors told Faustin after her last pregnancy that she would not be able to have any more children. Suffice to say, she didn't plan to put her team through this sort of March madness. But it has given the coach and her players a lesson on how to handle the unexpected in life.
"I didn't think I could get pregnant again, so this is the most amazing blessing ever," she said. "It just comes at a difficult time of year, being torn between my Niagara family and a pretty awesome thing for my family."
"It's been great to watch her be able to do it all," Gatto said. "Not for one second does she slack because she's pregnant or she has a baby at home. When she is here, she is all here. She has been all-in 100 percent.
"She has proved the strength of what a woman can do."