Mar. 3—BOWLING GREEN — There was a time when the only thing rarer than an original da Vinci was a loss by a Robyn Fralick basketball team.
Before Fralick was hired to lead the Bowling Green State University women in 2018, she spent three seasons as the head coach at NCAA Division II Ashland, where her Eagles went 104-3.
That's right, 104-3, lest anyone confuse her record for the frequency of their favorite classic rock station. At the time, her .972 winning percentage was the highest of any coach in any sport at any level in NCAA history with at least 100 career games.
All Fralick did was win.
Until she didn't.
She counts herself fortunate for having both experiences.
At Bowling Green, her first two years proved a good-news-bad-news sort of bargain, at least for the rest of the Mid-American Conference.
The good news: As Fralick set out to revive a program that had lost twice as often as it won the previous four years, teams got the Falcons while they could. No matter how many little victories piled up — Bowling Green was within two points in the last two minutes of 10 of its losses last year — the defeats stacked higher. BG was 19-42.
The bad news: Fralick got better for it.
"It was hard," she said. "Doubt can creep in. 'Will this work?' But I feel like I'm a way better coach because of the challenges of my first two years. When I was at Ashland, we often had a pretty big margin in games, so your room for mistakes is higher. During my time here, that margin really shrunk. It makes you more alert, makes you pay more attention, makes you have to figure out how we can [maximize] every single possession. The record between our first year and second year isn't very different, but we were a lot better."
And this year? Maybe you've heard.
Picked to finish 11th in the MAC, the Falcons (17-4, 13-3) have pressed fast forward in their rebuild all the way to the top of the conference.
With a starting lineup that includes three freshmen, a sophomore, and a junior — and a talented ensemble of veterans who embody the program's first core value ("BE A GREAT TEAMMATE") — the Falcons clinched at least a share of the regular-season league title with two games to spare and can win it outright with a home victory against Kent State on Wednesday or Buffalo on Saturday.
Almost overnight, Fralick and her staff have the makings of another powerhouse built to last.
"This is just the start," star freshman guard Lexi Fleming said.
It is also just as imagined.
OK, maybe not quite.
"If you would have told me at the beginning of the season that we'd be MAC regular-season champions," Bowling Green AD Bob Moosbrugger said, "I would have said, 'I don't know about that.'"
Still, if the timetable has accelerated, Moosbrugger knew Fralick had a chance to be special.
Too many people said so, as did her record, the level be damned. I don't need to remind Bowling Green fans what happened the last time the school gambled on a women's basketball coach with an incredible record at a lower level. Fran Voll, who went 208-17 at Delphos St. John's High School before he was hired by BG in 1984, led the Falcons to four NCAA tournament in seven years.
The moral: Great coaches are great coaches, and the 39-year-old Fralick — an Okemos, Mich., native who played at Davidson — continues to prove just that.
Like at Ashland, where Fralick spent seven seasons as an assistant before her historic three-year run in the lead chair, she has sought to establish a culture of competitive excellence, which sounds like a buzzword until you see it in action.
Fralick makes it a point in recruiting to prioritize very good athletes and students who come from very good high school programs. Take her three freshmen starters: Fleming (Cincinnati Mercy McAuley), Nyla Hampton (Huber Heights Wayne), and Kenzie Lewis (Williamston, Mich.). Their prep teams went a combined 258-51, and all three were National Honor Society members.
"Two things stand out," Fralick said. "They're really, really good competitors and they're smart. It hasn't taken long for my young kids to figure out what we do and how we do it. And my older kids are to the point where they set the standard for how we work, how we practice, how we treat each other. That combination has been really cool."
And really productive.
Fralick's group is not quite a copy of her pedal-to-the-floor, 100-points-per-game-averaging teams at Ashland, when the Eagles applied full-court pressure for 40 minutes. Not yet, anyway. "As coach Fralick keeps building our program," Fleming said, "I think we could eventually get there."
Yet the Falcons are a handful just the same.
Led by Fleming, the 5-foot-5 catalyst who averages 17.5 points per game, Bowling Green plays hard and smart and together, pressuring like crazy in the half court and efficiently pushing the ball at every turn. BG's assist-to-turnover-ratio (1.08) leads the conference.
Simply, it is winning basketball.
And, as long as one of the sport's brightest young coaching stars stays around, the good times here are only beginning.
While bigger schools may soon come calling, all I can report is Fralick does not sound in any hurry to leave Bowling Green. She called the university "awesome," the Stroh Center "the coolest" ("Every time I walk through there, I'm like, 'I can't believe I get to work here'"), and the community "an amazing place to raise a family." Additionally, she and her husband, Tim, who have a young son, William, and daughter, Clara, are within 90 minutes of all of their family.
"We love it here," Fralick said. "I mean, I was at Ashland for 10 years. It was really hard to leave there. When you pour your heart and soul into a place, that's the point. We love it here."
For Falcons fans, that's music to the ears.
First Published March 2, 2021, 3:13pm