When the Boston University women’s basketball team jetted off to Washington, D.C., one member of the group was missing — head coach Melissa Graves.
The team, traveling to play American University, sat through a brief flight, but Graves took a six-and-a-half hour drive from Boston to the nation’s capital instead.
Graves was nine months pregnant and due to give birth to her daughter, and first child, in less than a week. She coached her team nonetheless.
“I thought to myself sometimes, ‘This is not possible, there’s no way.’ With the time commitment that we have, with the travel schedule,” Graves said.
Graves’ due date has come on the tail end of a whirlwind calendar year.
In the span of about a week last spring, Graves became BU’s women’s basketball head coach and got married. She found out she was pregnant three weeks later. Then, in August, she lost her father.
None of it has taken her away from the game she loves.
Up until BU’s matchup with Lafayette College on Feb. 23, which took place five days past her due date, Graves has coached every game — home and away.
“My mindset is I do want to come back as quick as I can and miss as little as possible,” Graves said. “Just because we’re in such a good place as a team.”
Graves has led BU to yet another successful season in the Patriot League. The team caught fire during conference play, winning nine of its first ten matchups against Patriot League opponents, and are now gearing up to make a run at a conference championship.
Even when the team travels to a road game by bus, Graves said she has traveled separately in case she needs to drive to a hospital at any point. On some trips, Graves has been accompanied by her assistant coaches. Other times, she’s driven with her mother.
Through everything, Graves’ new team has stayed by her side.
“When I lost my father, they were very supportive. [They] sent me flowers to the house 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 held a gender reveal together.
“They’ve gotten new, little gifts and stuff for the baby and they’re just like, ‘We can’t wait to babysit,’” she added.
Graves consulted two other coaches on their experience leading a Division I college 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 BU women’s lacrosse head coach Lauren Morton.
“[Morton] just had a little girl during their past season last year and just talking through with her like, what did she miss like, because we’re athletes too. So we’re trained to try to do everything and try to come back super quick” Graves added.
Meanwhile, she picked Guth’s brain on how often she attended practices and worked with her student-athletes while pregnant.
Beyond the help of peers like Guth and Morton, Graves has had the support of another coach every step of the way, her husband Matt Graves.
“For this past month, I wasn’t able to fly, so certain games I couldn’t go on flights with. My husband actually came with me on that trip because I was only six days out of my due date.”
Graves, who works as an assistant coach at Clark University, even missed a game to be with her for the drive down to American.
“I’m very happy for [Graves],” BU assistant coach Brianna Finch said. “She’s been able to realize that she can have it all, and the opportunity to be able to balance being an individual and coach, a wife, a mother.”
Graves said she is also grateful for the BU Athletic Department’s understanding while she has juggled pregnancy with her coaching responsibilities.
“I got pregnant three weeks into my career here,” Graves said. “I was never afraid to be like … what are they gonna think, this is so soon into my career.”
Specifically, Graves credited the help of another administrator, Senior Associate Director of Athletics Kristie Bowers, who works with women’s basketball frequently.
“As I’ve been later in this third trimester, she has really been supportive and present, which I thought was really huge of her to sacrifice her time and everything to make sure if I did go into labor that someone was back with the team from administration.” Graves also praised Athletic Director Drew Marochello, calling his support “phenomenal.”
“Everybody’s been incredibly supportive,”Finch said. “The athletic department, the number of other coaches who reach out to us and congratulate us on wins, support us when we may have a loss and things like that, it’s been absolutely wonderful.”
While it may seem hectic on the outside, Graves has been able to dial in before tip off.
“I just try to focus on the moment really, I don’t think anything more complex than that, just trying 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 challenging recently in the latter stages of pregnancy.
“Overall, it’s just like, you just got to focus on the present moment and doing what needs to be done in the moment.”
Graves said she hopes that her coaching staff and players will serve as strong role models for her daughter.
“It’s going to be so awesome for her just to be around not only the game of basketball, but these strong, powerful women,” Graves said.
“It’s important to have people that look like you. Women can do anything, whether it’s a male dominated industry or not, or career profession, women can do it too.”