New coach. Check.
New assistant coaches, director of basketball operations and video coordinator. Check.
Four new freshmen. Check.
New season. Check.
Players, coaches and fans of the MSU women’s basketball team are ready to replace the bitter taste in their mouths, left from last season’s sudden coaching shake-up, with the sweet taste of victory under new leadership and a fresh start.
MSU’s first-year head coach Suzy Merchant inherits a program that made back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances in 2005 and 2006, led by former head coach Joanne P. McCallie for seven seasons.
Merchant said although she received the job last spring, the practices have just started and it is finally feeling real.
“I wouldn’t say I’m nervous (about the season starting), I’m looking forward to it,” she said. “Once I get that first (game) under my belt, I’ll be fine. It’s like taking the first step down the (wedding) aisle.
“I just want the ball to get tipped and to get into an environment I feel most comfortable coaching in. We’ll be ready to go.”
The players are just as excited as Merchant to get the season underway, eager to put the past behind them.
“I absolutely love these coaches, love the staff,” sophomore center Allyssa DeHaan said. “Everything that happened with the coaching change was obviously a surprise and a big obstacle that the team faced, and we handled it very well. I think it has worked out great so far. We’ve made a smooth transition with them, and them with us.
“(The coaching change) was definitely a bonding experience for the team. We really came together as a team, we’re a family. I think it was a good thing for us.”
Besides leading the team to an NCAA Championship, Merchant wants the fans to be proud every time the Spartans step out on the court.
“The passion for basketball at MSU is huge. I am really excited to be a part of it,” Merchant said.
Although Merchant admits that depth is not the team’s strength at the moment — with eight underclassmen — she does feel they are up to the challenge.
“We’re down in numbers, so first and foremost we are looking to value the ball. We are looking to take care of the ball in the corner court,” she said. “My goal is that we keep getting better and better every day.”
Eight letter winners from last season return to the court for the Spartans, including DeHaan, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
The Spartans are coming off a 13-3 Big Ten season as well as a notable run in the 2007 NCAA Tournament, exiting in the second round.
Sophomore center Lauren Aitch, who received a medical redshirt last season due to a torn ACL, is back in full health and strength, having shed 25 pounds for the season.
Junior guard Mia Johnson tore her ACL during summer workouts, but is expected to be ready by Big Ten play.