New Purdue Fort Wayne women's basketball coach Maria Marchesano knows how to turn a program around.
In her last job, at Mount St. Mary's, Marchesano's team went 9-20 in her first season. By Year 4, the Mountaineers were 17-7 and reached the NCAA Tournament.
Marchesano faces an even more difficult rebuild in her new position. The Mastodons went 1-22 last season and have not finished above .500 in a decade. Marchesano said Thursday she will go to work immediately building next season's roster.
“The transfer portal has over 1,000 kids in it right now and we're looking to add a couple pieces with those open scholarships and hopefully find really good fits for the style of play I want to play, but also really good fits to initiate a new culture with,” Marchesano said. “We want really good culture, kids that are going to be team players, work hard and maybe some kids that understand what it takes.”
Taking the PFW job is a homecoming for Marchesano, 38, who was a basketball and softball star for Elmhurst in the late 1990s and early 2000s. She noted that many of her coaching opportunities in recent years have taken her further from home, culminating in the job with the Mountaineers in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
She said being close to her family was “a huge piece” of her decision to take the position with the Mastodons, but added that PFW has other advantages, as well.
“Purdue Fort Wayne is a huge opportunity,” said Marchesano, who played college basketball at Butler. “I think the move to the Horizon League has made this job very desirable. Some of the Horizon League coaches have reached out to me and expressed how they feel this is a great setup here, maybe even better than the schools they're at.
“There's added pressure coming home, but I like that and I think we're going to be able to get it turned around and build a lot of excitement around this program. ... It's going to be fun, it's going to be a process and there's going to be some tough days, but I'm really excited to be back in town and feel the excitement.”
Marchesano replaces Niecee Nelson, who had led the program for the previous five seasons.
In January, The Journal Gazette reported that more than 20 people, among them 14 former players, had submitted statements to lawyer Martin J. Greenberg describing mistreatment at the hands of Nelson, including verbal and mental abuse.
Despite those allegations and the team's recent lack of success on the court, Marchesano said she is not worried about the perception of the program when she goes out to recruit.
“It's a new era,” she said. “I don't think there's going to be any focus on the past. I don't know much about the past, I'm really focused on moving forward. ... I'm going to put put together a fun staff, a young staff that's relatable to these kids and I don't think that will even be an issue moving forward.”