For all of last season, Jen Fay could only watch as Quinnipiac’s NCAA Tournament aspirations grew more and more realistic only to be shattered on the Times Union Center’s hardwood the week before the women’s basketball selection show.

The pain from that MAAC championship loss to Iona in Albany was different than the kind the Lynbrook native felt when she tore an ACL before the season. But it hurt nonetheless because she could not impact the game, which relegated the Bobcats to the WNIT.

With that memory as fuel, Fay came back stronger as a redshirt sophomore. And Quinnipiac has been stronger, too.

The Bobcats (29-6) returned to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in five years and proceeded to make history. With wins over No. 5 Marquette last Saturday and No. 4 Miami on Monday, Quinnipiac not only won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time but also became the fourth No. 12 seed ever to advance to the Sweet 16. Quinnipiac lost to No. 1 seed South Carolina, 100-58 on Saturday.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Fay, a 6-foot forward. “I couldn’t imagine it, but it’s here and it’s real.”

Fay had one of the best outings of her career against Marquette, posting 20 points and four steals. She scored five points in the fourth quarter to help thwart the Golden Eagles’ comeback attempt in a 68-65 win.

“She came out and set the whole tone,” Quinnipiac coach Tricia Fabbri said.

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Fay, who averages a team-best 10.4 points per game, also played a critical role in the Bobcats’ 81-73 win over Rider on March 6 in the MAAC championship. She recorded her second double-double of the season with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

“It’s just awesome coming off an injury, last year I didn’t get to play at all,” Fay said. “Having a comeback year like this is incredible.”

Fay was born and raised in Lynbrook. As an eighth grader, she made the Owls’ JV team and earned a spot on the varsity squad a year later. She transferred to Nazareth Regional in Brooklyn for her sophomore year because of “the competitive opportunities, recruiting opportunities,” and was a McDonald’s All-American nominee as a senior.

At Nazareth, she played alongside Bianca Cuevas-Moore, who became a McDonald’s All-American point guard and went to South Carolina. The two exchanged texts after they learned they would face each other in the Sweet 16.

“We were very close during high school,” Fay said. “Playing with her made me so much better. She was the point guard, and I was the pick-and-roll man, so I really learned how to roll off of her.”

Fabbri said the Bobcats don’t run much pick and roll, but Fay’s skill set includes much more than rolling off screens. Already a matchup problem at forward because of her passing ability, Fay improved her jumper during her redshirt year. She has converted 38.4 percent of her three-point attempts this season.

“In her year of growth she absolutely developed her outside shot so now she’s just a weapon offensively,” Fabbri said. “She’s crafty. She can make a play when she draws attention too. That’s why we’re good. She’s playing great.”