Tuesday, May 29, 2012

In the Zone with Ali Jaques

1997nationalChamp.jpg"New York University's Marsha Harris did not even look up. There was neither the time nor the need to. With the score tied at 70-70 last night, and time running out, Harris dribbled the ball the length of the floor, blew past two defenders and laid it in with one and a half seconds left to give N.Y.U. (29-1) its first National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III women's basketball championship." --The New York Times, March 23, 1997

Fifteen years ago, Aloysia (Ali) Jaques (CAS '98) passed the ball to Marsha Harris, who scored the National Championship winning point with a layup. This five second play has become a legendary moment in history for NYU Athletics. Those who attended will never forget the surge of elation and NYU-pride that billowed throughout Coles Sports Center at that instant.

Fifteen years later, the '97 National Title team's spirit is alive and well. The teammates still stay in contact with each other, meeting a couple times every year to re-connect, and many have gone on to become doctors, engineers, teachers, and Master's and PhD recipients. Upon graduation from NYU's College of Art's and Science, Ali Jaques went on to pursue a career in basketball coaching. Since then, her career has grown, and recently, Jaques accepted a Head Coaching position with Siena College's Division I Women's Basketball team.


We had the opportunity to speak with Ali about her memories of bringing victory to the Violets and her exciting, new role at Siena College.  

How long have you been playing basketball?

I can’t remember life without basketball. My father was a huge influence on me and probably had me dribbling a ball as soon I was capable. Growing up, there weren’t organized leagues for girls, so until I was in 6th grade, I always played on boys teams. My dad was always my coach growing up, and he and I share a special bond when it comes to basketball and sports.  

AliJaques3.jpgAt what point did you realize that basketball was more than just a sport you played, and that you wanted to make it your career?

Sports were always a big part of my life. My mother was a big influence on me academically, and my father was a big influence when it came to team sports. I am the oldest of four children (all of which played college sports), and being competitive and learning the value of teamwork were always emphasized in our house growing up. So, to answer your question, I always knew I wanted to keep athletics as a part of my life. At NYU, I was a Journalism major and envisioned myself reporting on sports or news one day. As a basketball player at NYU, Coach Quinn and my teammates made my 4 years as a Violet unforgettable. When given the opportunity to coach for a year out of college, I figured I’d try it out for a year and see what happened with it. I was hooked from day one…and I guess the rest is history.


In 1997, you were part of the NYU Women’s Basketball team that won the legendary Division III National Championship game against Wisconsin-Eau Claire. As a member of that team, what was the significance of this game?

Winning a National Championship was a huge moment in my life. When a group of young women, from all over the country with very diverse backgrounds, could overcome the obstacles we did to say we were the best…there really are no words to describe it. I wear my National Championship ring every day. Coach always said “we did it in NY fashion”. We were down by 15 points and came back to be up with a second to go…players got hurt…we fought through a lot of adversity. I think we had a toughness about us that is hard to articulate unless you were a part of it. I think I could speak for everyone on the team and say it was a really special moment for all of us.  

Now, fifteen years later, what memory sticks out most about that game?

I just remember looking up at the clock and knowing there was 1.7 seconds to go when Marsha scored. I knew that the game wasn’t over until the horn sounded. In the Final Four game we rushed the court and got a team technical…we were up 30 so it didn’t matter, then. Maybe that was the young coach in me knowing that every second counted. When the horn finally went off, I remember hugging my teammates. I remember the total disbelief and realization that we had won. Mostly, I remember my teammates and coaches – the hugs, the smiles, and our families.


Has the team kept in touch over the years?

Some of my best friends in life are the ones I made at NYU. We get together a few times a year and re-connect. Facebook has become an easy way for us to keep up with each other. It is great to watch each other get married and have children. I think my teammates and I have found tremendous professional success in whatever fields we chose. I’m really proud of what we’ve all accomplished. We are doctors, engineers, teachers, some have earned masters and even PhDs. We are a pretty high achieving group.  

Was it difficult to transition from being a basketball player to a coach?

Because I started out as a Division I Coach and was a Division III player there might have been some initial insecurity. I learned pretty quickly that I didn’t have to be a great player to be a great coach. Coaching involves a lot more than going to practice every day. Most people don’t realize what it actually takes. Yes, we teach the game of basketball. The recruitment of potential student-athletes is a big part of it. Mentoring the players we have on and off the court is another important aspect. Preparing for opponents by watching hours upon hours of film, and then preparing game plans is crucial to success. At the end of the day, when the ball goes up, we get judged by wins and losses. It can sometimes be a daunting way to earn a living. I wouldn’t trade it for anything right now!


As a college basketball coach, if you found yourself in a game against NYU, you would let us win, right?

Absolutely not!!! Funny question, though. I think Coach Quinn would be disappointed in me if I answered any other way. I love the idea of competing and winning. If you ask any of my former teammates…losing wasn’t really an option! If we did, I can promise you we left everything we had out on the court!  

Is there anything else you would like to add about your time at NYU, your career, or anything in between?

I’m really grateful for my time at NYU. My family sacrificed a lot for me to be educated at such an amazing place. I’m thankful for my coaches, the Athletic Department and even President L.J. Oliva for all of the support we had. I can look back on my playing career, my education, and the relationships I built with my teammates and know deep down that I got the most out of my experience as a Violet!  

Be sure to follow Ali Jaques and her team on the web, Facebook and Twitter.

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