Assistant coaches adjust to Duffy’s coaching style

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While the Marquette women’s basketball team has plenty of new bodies in head coach Megan Duffy’s first season,  there are a couple familiar faces in assistant coaches Vernette Skeete and Scott Merritt.

Both Skeete and Merritt spent the last five seasons at MU alongside former head coaches Carolyn Kieger and Terri Mitchell. When Kieger left for Penn State April 3, Skeete and Merritt faced a tough decision: whether to stay at Marquette, or join Kieger or a different coaching staff.

“I love what Marquette stands for,” Skeete said. “There’s not a lot of places that love women’s basketball. (We) have a president and an athletic director dedicated to the program. It’s great to be in a place where you feel like you’re asking these players to push and push and give and give and you can give back.”

Merritt said he learned a lot from Kieger but ultimately ended up staying at Marquette because he wanted to gain new knowledge from Duffy and her staff.

“It was tough,” Merritt said. “I thought (Kieger) would be here for a long time, but changes happen. Coaches switch schools all the time. All good things come to an end at some point, right?”

Another challenge Skeete and Merritt had to face was the loss of six seniors.

“You don’t necessarily feel like it was a loss, you feel accomplished,” Skeete said. “It was growth. It was amazing to see them coming in. Four years later, and now they’re adults. Watching them graduate and move on was more like a progressive state.”

When finding out about Kieger’s departure, Skeete said it was initially exciting to see her being rewarded for the hard work she put into the program, but it was also bittersweet because she realized it was the end of an era.

“When we started this program, it was kind of in a stale state. (Kieger) brought a breath of life to it,” Skeete said. “She gave the whole idea of making the Marquette women’s basketball program a national contender. That was her philosophy, ‘We can win here, we want to be like the (Marquette men’s basketball program), the men have won (a National Championship)’.”

Although MU never won a national title under Kieger, Skeete and Merritt contributed to the great amount of success the Golden Eagles achieved over the last five years. During those five seasons, Marquette won a pair of BIG EAST regular-season championships and a BIG EAST tournament championship, made three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, advancing to the round of 32 the past two seasons and was ranked as high as eighth in the AP Coaches’ Poll.

Now that the Kieger era of Marquette women’s basketball is over, both Skeete and Merritt believe the program can continue and improve its successes.

“Now we’re like, ‘OK, can we do it again?’” Skeete said. “Where will (this team) be compared to where (those teams) were. We want to produce the same product. That’s our goal.”

Skeete said the program has an advantage this time around to build a more successful team than it did five years ago.

“We have been able to recruit a better brand of (players),” Skeete said. “They’re young, but across the board offensively and defensively they probably (can) do a lot more things than some of the other players did early on in their careers. We have brought in quality (players) that have tremendous talent.”

Skeete and Merritt said it’s been a seamless transition to Duffy’s system.

“(Duffy) wanted to keep the program growing in the same direction,” Skeete said. “She didn’t want to offset or change anything. She wanted to continue to grow. She believed in championships, and she believed in being the difference.”

One thing that stood out about Duffy to both coaches was her ability to connect with the players.

“(Duffy) is a great leader, she’s definitely born to do it,” Skeete said. “She comes with that persona. She has that presence about herself that connects with the (players) well.”

Now they’re hoping that translates into more on-court success after the team’s 3-1 start this year.

The Golden Eagles take on University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Tuesday on the road at 7 p.m.

This story was written by Tyler Peters. He can be reached at tyler.peters@marquette.edu and on Twitter @_tylerpeters_.

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