When the Boston University women’s basketball team flew to Washington, DC, one member of the squad was missing: head coach Melissa Graves.
The team, traveling to play at American University, saw a brief flight, but Graves instead took a six-and-a-half-hour drive from Boston to the nation’s capital.
Graves was nine months pregnant and was due to give birth to her daughter and first child in less than a week. She nevertheless coached her team.
“I sometimes said to myself: ‘It’s not possible, there’s no way.’ With the time commitment that we have, with the travel schedule,” Graves said.
Graves’ due date came at the end of a whirlwind calendar year.
In the space of about a week last spring, Graves became BU’s head women’s basketball coach and got married. She found out she was pregnant three weeks later. Then, in August, she lost her father.
None of this has taken her away from the game she loves.
Until BU’s game with Lafayette College on February 23, which was five days after his due date, Graves coached every game – home and away.
“My mindset is I want to get back as fast as possible and miss as little as possible,” Graves said. “Just because we’re in such a good position as a team.”
Graves led BU to another successful season in the Patriot League. The team has been on fire in conference play, winning nine of its first ten matchups against Patriot League opponents, and is now gearing up to compete in a conference championship.
Even when the team travels to a game on the road by bus, Graves said she travels separately in case she needs to get to the hospital at any time. On some trips, Graves has been accompanied by her assistant coaches. Other times she is driven with her mother.
Through it all, Graves’ new team stuck by his side.
“When I lost my father, they were very supportive of me. [They] sent me flowers at home with a note like, “Hey, Coach, we got you.” We’re here for you. We can’t imagine what you’re going through,” Graves said.
Graves and the team even hosted a gender reveal together.
“They got some new goodies and baby stuff and they’re just like, ‘We can’t wait to babysit,'” she added.
Graves consulted with two other coaches about their experience leading a Division I varsity team while pregnant. One was Yale University women’s basketball head coach Allison Guth, whom Graves worked with earlier in her career. The other was UB women’s lacrosse head coach Lauren Morton.
“[Morton] I just had a little girl in their senior season last year and I just talked to her, what did she miss, because we’re athletes too. So we are trained to try to do everything and try to come back very quickly,” added Graves.
During this time, she picked Guth’s brains out on how often she attended practices and worked with her student-athletes during her pregnancy.
Beyond the help of peers like Guth and Morton, Graves had the support of another coach every step of the way, her husband Matt Graves.
“In the last month I haven’t been able to fly, so some games I haven’t been able to fly. In fact, my husband came with me on this trip because I was only at six days from my due date.
Graves, who works as an assistant coach at Clark University, even skipped a game to be with her for the trip to America.
“I am very happy for [Graves]”, said BU assistant coach Brianna Finch. “She was able to realize that she can have it all, and the opportunity to be able to balance being a person and a coach, a wife, a mother.
Graves said she was also grateful for the understanding of BU’s athletic department as she juggled pregnancy and her coaching responsibilities.
“I got pregnant three weeks into my career here,” Graves said. “I’ve never been afraid to be like…what are they going to think, it’s so early in my career.”
Specifically, Graves credited the help of another administrator, Senior Associate Director of Athletics Kristie Bowers, who frequently works with women’s basketball.
“As I was later in that third trimester, she was really supportive and present, which I thought was really huge of her to sacrifice her time and everything to make sure that if I went into labor, someone was back with the management team.” Graves also praised athletic director Drew Marochello, calling his support “phenomenal”.
“Everyone has been incredibly supportive,” Finch said. “The athletic department, the number of other coaches reaching out to us and congratulating us on our wins, supporting us when we can have a loss and things like that, it’s absolutely wonderful.”
Although it might look hectic on the outside, Graves was able to connect before the whistleblower.
“I just try to focus on the moment really, I don’t think of anything more complex than that, I just try to focus on the moment and as a head coach you always have to be prepared and mentally ready. to go,” Graves said.
Graves acknowledged that it has been more difficult recently in the later stages of pregnancy.
“Overall, it’s like you have to focus on the moment and do what needs to be done in the moment.”
Graves said she hopes her coaching staff and players serve as strong role models for her daughter.
“It’s going to be so awesome for her to be around not just basketball, but these strong, powerful women,” Graves said.
“It’s important to have people who look like you. Women can do anything, whether it’s a male-dominated industry or not, or a trade, women can do it too.