The Rams clinched the tournament title on March 10 in their 12th-straight win of the season. At the end of the month, they were invited to The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, where they took on the viral “cheese challenge” and threw slices of cheese at its famous host. And although they lost to Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA tournament, they tied for third-most victories in a single campaign with 25.
Crucial to their success was Stephanie Gaitley, who joined the Rams as head coach in 2011. Over the past eight years, Coach Gaitley has been transforming the team into a national powerhouse, with a 26-win season in 2012-2013 followed by a 25-8 record and Fordham’s first-ever Atlantic 10 Women’s Basketball Championship in 2014. At the end of the 2016-2017 campaign, Gaitley was the program’s all-time leader in wins, closing the year with 120. She currently has 169 wins at Fordham and 188 all-time Atlantic 10 wins, the second most all-time for conference women’s head coaches.
Known for her inspirational leadership both on and off the court, Gaitley offered six pieces of advice to this year’s graduating class:
Communication is key. “This year’s team was the best chemistry I’ve had since I’ve been here, and that’s because they genuinely care about each other,” Gaitley said. “You’re not always going to like who you work for or with.” But, she said, if you’re able to hold candid conversations and truly listen to the people in your life—bosses, peers, subordinates, parents—you’re going to have “a lot more success.”
Effort and a good attitude will take you far. Gaitley called these “the two nonnegotiables” on her team. “Graduating seniors are young and scared, and they’re going out and doing something different and new,” she said. “As long as those two things are a part of them, that will open some doors.”
Look in the mirror before pointing fingers. It’s so easy to blame others, but we need to spend more time figuring out how we should improve first, she said.
Don’t underestimate a bad first job. “As you hit the next stage of your life, you’re also going to learn through things you don’t like,” she said. “That first job you’re going to get will probably not be your last one. It’ll be an opportunity to grow and learn.”
Live in the present. “Sometimes you don’t understand until you get older,” Gaitley said. “You look back and say, ‘Wow, did I embrace that moment? Or was I always looking for the next opportunity, rather than really enjoying what I had right in front of me?’”
Enjoy the journey to the “golden nugget.” Gaitley, a mother to three sons, said she’s also learned a lot through her children’s experiences—their first steps, anxiety, and work woes. “Everyone wants to get that golden nugget right in the beginning. But that’s not realistic. You have to work your way through,” she said. “When you finally find that perfect situation for yourself—and it might not be for a while—you’re going to look back on this and say, ‘Wow. I did that.’”