ALBANY None of the current Siena women’s basketball players had been born when Gina Castelli was hired as the team’s head coach in 1990.
The program will experience a rebirth, of sorts, starting at 5 tonight, when Siena ushers in a new head coach, Ali Jaques, for the first time in 23 seasons.
The Saints open the 2012-13 season against Fairleigh Dickinson of the Northeast Conference in the first half of a double-header at the Times Union Center that also includes the Siena men against Vermont.
“It’s great to play the same day and, hopefully, get a great crowd like our men get to try to create a little buzz for ourselves,” Jaques said. “But it’s just a great day for Siena basketball, and we’re really humbled that we get to play in an arena like that and have that experience. We’re ready to go.”
Castelli was let go after an eighth straight losing season in 2011-12.
Jaques, a member of New York University’s 1997 Division III national championship team, was an assistant at six different schools, most recently Northwestern, before being hired for her first college head coaching assignment.
As she embarks into new territory, the Rosemont, N.J., native gets a familiar opponent from her home state.
FDU, coached by Pete Cinella, was picked 10th in the NEC preseason coaches poll after finishing 13-18 overall and 8-10 in the conference last season.
The Knights lost their all-time second-leading scorer, Mariyah Laury, to graduation.
Her 1,920 career points included an NEC single-game record 42 against Monmouth on Feb. 11.
“Pete Cinella is a pretty good friend of mine, we go back to camp days at Sacred Heart, and I still hold the camp championship record over him. Just kidding,” Jaques said with a laugh. “He’s a great coach. Traditionally, they’ve been an up-tempo team, as well, lots of pressing, lots of different looks, offensively.
“He really gets his kids to play hard. We don’t really have any film on them. They did graduate a pretty dominant scorer last year, but it seems like their team has a lot of different pieces that could step up at any time.”
Back for FDU are Erika Livermore and Danielle Pankey, who each averaged 10.9 points per game last season.
Siena will rely heavily on its only senior, all-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference first-team forward Lily Grenci, but will also show a fast-paced, pressing style that Jaques prefers, a defense spurred by Col-onie High School graduate Tehresa Coles, who became a starter as a freshman last year.
Because the Saints will be pressing, Jaques will try to maintain a deep bench.
She’s settled on Ciara Stewart at point guard, and Grenci will get help on the boards from Clara Sole Anglada and Kate Zarotney.
Jaques senses a prevailing eagerness from her players to get the season started.
“Ciara’s done a great job,” she said. “She’s a junior, she’s paid her dues and is sitting in the film room taking notes. That’s a first, I hadn’t seen that before. She wants to be good.
“I’ve been impressed with how focused they’ve been, whether it’s been in timeouts or in pre-game or halftime talks, they’ve really been coachable. When kids are tired and they’re in a timeout and they’re trying to get their water and get organized and everything else, for them to be able to focus has been really refreshing. That’s something I was used to having at Northwestern.”