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SIOUX CITY | It is customary for teams in the NAIA Division II Women's National Basketball Championship to bring one gift per player to the Tyson Events Center.

Those gifts, whether they're T-shirts or caps or gift bags, go from players to their opening-round opponents, exchanged during the "parade of champions" on Wednesday evening.

Samantha Quigley commits her team's first turnover of the national tournament. She doesn't know about this player-to-player gift swap.

"We brought two coffee mugs to give to the coaches," Quigley admits with a laugh. "We didn't know that each player exchanges a gift."

So, the St. Francis players have nothing to present their foes from Asbury. The Asbury players hand across a little gift bag, one with Kentucky chapstick (yes, that's a thing) and candy.

"We took down their numbers and we'll send them something," Quigley says, rolling with these basketball punches. "This is our first time here."

The first time for St. Francis ends quickly. Asbury builds a 15-point lead on Thursday morning, then hangs on, knocking out the Fighting Saints, 63-60.

Quigley has a few tears in her eyes as she reports to the press after the game. She blames a slow start on national tournament jitters. She lauds Asbury's winning effort and hails the resurgence of her program, one that has ridden the effort and spirit of seniors Alexis Brown and Khadija Cooley.

"I can't say enough about my two seniors and what it means to make it to the national tournament," Quigley says, disclosing how those players endured losing seasons of 14-17 and 8-23 before turning things around last year in winning 17 against 14 losses.

The Fighting Saints win the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular season this year, fashioning a sterling 28-4 mark along the way.

"Those two seniors were in my first recruiting class," Quigley says.

In a way, they've become like family, a term coaches often use in describing their programs.

In Quigley's case, the terms family and USF basketball are nearly one in the same.

Quigley, 28, coaches her team's home games on Pat Quigley Court, named for her father, who died of pancreatic cancer when Samantha was 5 years old. Pat Quigley left behind his wife, Christine, and their four young children, ages 7 through 4.

"I remember my dad," Samantha Quigley says. "He played basketball and tennis at St. Francis. He was coaching high school baseball when he felt a cramp one spring in his hamstring. It stayed with him for three months. He finally got it checked and they diagnosed pancreatic cancer."

He died within one year.

The gym had been a second home to him, the place he took his toddlers multiple times per week. It may have been the first home for his wife, Christine, who was known as Christine Prieboy when she attended St. Francis and scored 2,377 points, a total that still tops the career scoring column.

Christine would remarry one decade after her husband's death, exchanging vows with Don Strle, who had served as the couple's best man at their wedding.

"I have two dads," Samantha Quigley says.

Ten years ago, two buddies of the late Pat Quigley presented a memorial gift to the school, which, in turn, named the basketball court in Pat's honor.

Five years ago, Samantha Quigley walked onto that basketball court as an assistant coach, serving under head coach Brian Michalak, her uncle.

"I told you our family is connected to this program," she says.

While Quigley didn't play for St. Francis (she and older sister Allie Quigley starred at DePaul University in Chicago; Allie still plays for Chicago in the WNBA and overseas in Turkey), the university was always a second home for her in Joliet, Illinois, where she was raised.

When Michalak stepped away from the women's basketball program to focus on his work as head baseball coach, Quigley earned the job. She found she enjoyed recruiting and coaching to her liking, even though the team slipped to eight victories her second year.

"There were ups and downs," says Alexis Brown, a senior who scores 20 in Thursday's loss. "But coach never gave up on us. She stayed with us all the way."

All the way to Sioux City, where the head coach watches the clock run out on her fourth season.

"USF was in the the NAIA Division I national tournament, but that was like 20 years ago," she says. "It is great we got here. It's been a long time."

Although 31 head coaches will leave the Tyson Events Center after a loss this week, all 31 would agree: It is great getting here. If you lose to end the season, lose in Sioux City.

The plan now, Quigley says, is to return in 2017. And maybe, just maybe, enjoy some Sioux City success while eyeing future national tournament appearances for the Fighting Saints.

"St. Francis is a wonderful place," the head coach says. "I could see myself being a lifer there."

That makes sense. It runs in the family.

And when she returns to Sioux City, Quigley knows this much: She won't commit the team's first turnover. "We'll have a gift," she says with a smile. "One for every player!"



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