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Despite many hurdles, Merchant finding success for Spartans




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Head coach Suzy Merchant walks with senior forward Courtney Schiffauer on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, during the game against Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Breslin Center after Schiffauer was injured. The Spartans beat the Panthers 81-50. Julia Nagy/The State News



In 17 years of coaching, MSU women’s basketball head coach Suzy Merchant has never experienced something like she has this season.

Injuries have been commonplace on the team, with sophomore center Madison Williams and freshman guard Aerial Powers out for the season, and three others coming off offseason surgeries.

Additionally, sophomore guard Kiana Johnson and redshirt freshman forward Akyah Taylor are suspended for the first nine games of the season and will return against IPFW on Dec. 16.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever been in a position where you’ve had five kids out, and significant ones,” Merchant said. “In the meantime, this is a core group, and it’s been a small group, and I don’t think I’ve ever had that. You don’t know what the challenges are, but you were fighting and competing together and that’s what we’re doing right now.”

One of the players returning to the lineup after surgery is freshman guard Branndais Agee, who Merchant said still has an impact on the court despite being less than 100 percent.

“She might be the only player in the country who doesn’t make somebody’s scouting report and then goes out there and they end up trying to guard her because of her performance,” she said. “She’s such an athletic kid and she can do some things. Right now, it’s about what does (and what) she knows, and what we can do to put her in position for the minutes she plays, just to be successful and just to let her play.”

The Spartans mostly lead as a collective group, but Merchant said senior guard Jasmine Thomas and senior forward Courtney Schiffauer have made the biggest impact.

“There’s no question Jasmine Thomas has done a great job at commanding presence,” Merchant said. “She doesn’t say a lot, but when she says it, there’s meaning and value to it. Courtney Schiffauer you have to put in that category too. (She does) all things that nobody likes to do, taking charges, getting after people defensively, having to be a physical player and undersized at the same time.”

With games against Oakland on Wednesday and No. 23 Dayton on Saturday, Merchant said the addition of Johnson and Taylor to the lineup after this week will create a few new looks for the team.

“It’d be nice to have a few twists and wrinkles, especially defensively, and that’s what it will allow us to do,” she said. “For us, it’s about the group that we’ve had, and that we are really committed to competing and getting after it.”


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