Jefferson P. Nolan
When it came to naming their daughter, the parents of Faith Mimnaugh nailed it.
“My name has been my walk in life,” the Cal Poly women’s basketball coach said. “It’s perfect.”
The name reflects the faith she has in her players, in the university where she works and in her own ability to coach a Division I basketball program. It also speaks to the values of her family and of her own rather shaky start in life.
Born premature in a hospital in Hoopeston, Ill., Mimnaugh and her fraternal twin sister were rushed by ambulance a city over to Danville to receive a blood transfusion. After three days of prayer and uncertainty, the Mimnaugh’s named their daughters Faith and Joy — faith that they would live and joy that they did.
The coach has been keeping the faith ever since. Mimnaugh is now Cal Poly’s second longest tenured head coach — next only to women’s soccer’s Alex Crozier’s 21 years — and it was a journey that started in high school.
“In high school, I was asked by one of the physical education teachers if I could teach a unit on basketball,” Mimnaugh said. “I coached every summer league for three years, and I got a lot of exposure of running the show at a very early age and kind of fell into it. It’s definitely not something I set off to do, but as it turned out, I had been doing that my whole life.”
The daughter of a Protestant minister, Mimnaugh has learned to balance the world of basketball with spirituality. A double major in theology and communication at Loyola University of Chicago, she hosted an hour-long radio show on Sundays called “Faith’s Corner,” during which she played contemporary Christian music for her audience.
Mimnaugh later continued to pursue her religious convictions and her passion for basketball with “Athletes in Action” — a Christian-based athletic group that ventured around the world serving those in need and sharing their faith. Destinations included Fiji, Korea and Australia.
It was in Australia where Mimnaugh caught the eye of a club basketball team. Once she received her college diploma, she ended up back on a plane for the South Pacific.
Mimnaugh went on to play semi-professional basketball for four seasons with the Newcastle Scorpions.
“I also got a chance to coach,” Mimnaugh said. “I was coaching on the younger levels, but the head coach had previous obligations, so they asked me to coach in practice. They asked me to come back the next year and become a player (and) coach.”
And their chief pastry chef.
“Who wants to make the lamingtons? Let’s roll them out,” Mimnaugh remembered. A dessert of Australian origin, a lamington consists of squares of sponge cake layered in chocolate icing and coconut. The Newcastle Scorpions sold them to raise money for the club.
“I’d be the first one there,” Mimnaugh said. “I would help sell; I would do everything. I just had the right attitude about giving to the community and giving back to the program. My family hasn’t raised me to do anything but serve.”
During her time in Australia, Mimnaugh also became the manager of the basketball complex. She directed the courts, refereed and worked as a receptionist in a doctor’s office in the mornings.
“I also volunteered to start a basketball breakfast club,” Mimnaugh said. “The kids would be out there at seven in the morning before school started playing basketball. It was a full day.”
Despite all her job titles, Mimnaugh was barely making ends meet. After sending letters all over the U.S. looking for a job in college coaching, she received a response from Hall of Fame coach Kay Yow of North Carolina State — the coach of the 1988 Olympic team and architect of one of the best women’s basketball programs in the nation.
“I knew it would just be an incredible opportunity for anyone to go work with her,” Mimnaugh said.
As assistant coach to Yow, Mimnaugh helped North Carolina State to the 1990 Atlantic Coast Conference title and the ’91 Conference Tournament Championship.
“To get that opportunity to work for a gold medal coach was unbelievable,” Mimnaugh said. “I learned how to run a program. Not just the basketball side of it. The whole thing. I just thought coach Yow was the bomb; she could do anything.”
From there came her first head coaching position at the University of Evansville. Cal Poly came later when she was hired as an assistant coach, but it was in 1997, just a year later, that she was appointed to the head coaching position for the Mustangs.
“It was such a building project,” Mimnaugh said. “It was a little overwhelming how much work needed to be done. I had been really fortunate to have incredible help along the way. It was a lot of stepping in faith that got this program off the ground.”
Off the Ground
Before each game, the women’s basketball team huddles together in the locker room before marching out onto the court. The girls gather around and direct their attention to their head coach. They want a story. For the Cal Poly women’s basketball team, it’s all about the stories.
“She tells an inspirational story before each game,” said Kerri Nakamoto, who is in her eighth year assistant coaching at Cal Poly. “They’re all over the place. Some are funny, inspirational or some to pump the girls up.”
Nakamoto has stayed at Cal Poly in large part because of Mimnaugh.
“I felt like (Mimnaugh) was someone who was a great role model and a great boss,” she said. “I think that people know Faith as a great person, but I don’t think most people know just how much she cares about her student-athletes. She would do anything for them, and I think that’s why I’ve stayed because there’s no one else I’d rather work for.”
With the recent loss of Brittany Woodard to a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), Mimnaugh and her team have a tough role to fill.
“I’m sick about Brittany being injured,” Mimnaugh said.
But she insists there is hope.
“The program is at the level where it’s going to be very very difficult,” Mimnaugh said. “But there’s still depth on our team to possibly overcome that kind of incredible loss. That part has changed for us, and that’s a testament for those who helped build the program.”
Senior guard Ashley Cascio is also aware of the challenges the team faces, and she knows her coach is going to be there every step of the way.
“We are a great team together,” Cascio said. “Everyone has her own role. (Coach Mimnaugh) truly cares about each one of us. She always asks us how life and academics as well as basketball are going. We have the chemistry together to win a championship, and that’s the goal.”