Home Helps Inspire Hartland Grad as Coach at Niagara University
Kendra Faustin's Purple Eagles play in Ypsilanti versus Eastern Michigan University on Tuesday.
Off to a 1-9 start a season after winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference coach of the year award at Niagara University in New York, Hartland area native Kendra Faustin knows the highs and lows of being a head coach in Division I women's basketball.
And it's the memories from home — especially a picture she came across when she was at her parents' house while recruiting in Michigan — that Faustin calls on now to pull through such times.
"They told me they had a bunch of things that either I take or they were going to throw away," Faustin said. "I found a photo of me coaching HAYAA (Hartland Area Youth Athletic Association) basketball, so I pulled it out and put it in my office because right now, we're struggling a bit as a program. It just reminded me of why I coach. Seeing and bringing that memory back of all these little girls that I coached – this is why I do it. It's at a different level, Division I basketball, but it's still the same reasons; it's how kids learn and grow, not only on the court, but as people and individuals as well."
Faustin will be back in the Hartland area Monday visiting family, the day before the Purple Eagles battle Eastern Michigan University at 7 p.m. in Ypsilanti — a game that will be special to her.
"It's the first time that my grandma will see me coach as a head coach," she said. "She's getting a little older, and she can't really travel much. I'll go see her the night before the game, and she's actually going to come to the game, which is pretty exciting for me."
'Grew up in a gym'
This week's trip will be one of the few times the 1997 Hartland High School graduate visits home each year. Since playing as a starting forward for Lake Superior State University from 1997-01, she's embarked on coaching career that's included stops as an assistant for Gannon University in Erie, PA, Hillsdale College, and Canisius College in Buffalo, NY. This is her fourth season coaching Niagara.
It's a journey that Faustin has sought ever since growing up in Hartland, where she was known as Kendra Harris, a genuine, basketball-loving girl who wanted nothing more than to become a basketball coach.
"Both of my parents coached, so I grew up in a gym," Faustin said. "I had really good coaches coming through, like (then Hartland High School girls coach) Mr. (Mike) Joseph. My college coaches were unbelievable and I look back now and think, 'I can't believe they put up with me.' When you're 18 years old, you believe the world revolves around you, and they helped me figure out that it's not about you, especially in team sports. They just helped me so much, not only about the game, but about being a member of a team, so I wanted to do that for other players and give back to the game."
Don Palmer, the current head coach for the Hartland girls team, saw Kendra's talent back then as a family friend when he was coaching at Milford High School. Both her parents coached with Palmer at Milford. Her dad, Tom, with the boys team and her mother, Debbie, with the girls.
"What I remember about Kendra is we ended up playing them eight times because Kendra was up on the varsity as a freshman," Palmer said. "We only beat them once, and it was the last one, so I always kid her, 'Well, you know how that series ended.' I saw her play when they tied Brighton for the KVC title and went to Brighton to beat them and win it, and that was kind of cool because Brighton has been the barometer of success in our league for a long, long time."
Faustin says she still tracks Palmer's team and the success they've recently had.
"I still follow the high school team because Don Palmer is my parents' best friend – he was my surrogate father growing up," she said. "I always wanted to play for Don (at Milford) and then as I got to know Mr. Joseph, I began to get really excited for Hartland, but I was always torn because I grew up going to all of Don's camps, and he was my father's best friend, so I knew him on a different level as well. I have no doubt that he'll be successful there, and he's a great coach."
Staying in touch
Faustin also remains close with a few of her childhood friends, including Theresa Posey, whose family resides in Parshallville. Posey has been Faustin's best friend since third grade, and also played basketball with her for a few years in high school.
"The best memories I had with her was just hanging out with her," Posey said. "She has such an energy about her that even when I'm having the worst day, when I'm around her she just makes my day. She amazes me how she remembers everybody's name; it could be years, but she always remembers their name which I envy big time because I'm so bad with people's names.
"She is all in all just a wonderful person. She's so good with the girls too. She's almost like one of the girls, yet she's mature enough to handle all of the drama that goes along with having a bunch of girls together. I just can't say enough good things about her."
Palmer said he's proud of Faustin's achievements.
"She went from a very prominent high school player, to a scholarship athlete at Lake Superior State, and from there she kind of bounced around in the coaching ranks and became a Division I head coach before she became the age of 30 – it's just quite a resume," he said. "There's not just one memory more than there is a great deal of respect for the body of work."
Faustin's team has been struggling, but she still has her hopes up for a successful season. Last year at this point, the Purple Eagles were 3-8, but the team later went on to win five in a row, including knocking off Marist College, which had the third-longest winning streak in the country at the time. Niagara's final 13-18 overall record improved on both Faustin's first two years as head coach when Niagara was 3-28 in 2008-09 and 8-22 in 2007-08.
"I want to build our program into something that's special, and that our student athletes are having an unbelievable experience, and eventually that means winning," Faustin said.
"The value of work – if you want something, you have to work for it; everybody wants to win, but who's willing to pay the price to be successful? In this age, everybody wants all these things, but we're not willing always to earn them. Sometimes it's such a sense of entitlement, and I just really want our players to understand if you want something bad enough, how much work you really have to put into it. I think that's the most invaluable lesson is being the best you can be."