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Spartans open 2009 in Jefferson's hometown

November 12, 2009

Senior forward Aisha Jefferson hugs sophomore forward Taylor Alton after the Spartans beat Grand Valley State at Breslin Center 88-52 on Sunday. The Spartans open their regular season Friday in Dayton, Ohio Jefferson’s hometown.

Suzy Merchant’s schedule is no accident.

Scheduling games in Dayton, Ohio, Detroit and Grand Rapids, in nonconference play was no mistake — those cities just happen to be the home area for three of her four senior captains.

That journey begins Friday when the No. 10 Spartans play Dayton, heading to forward Aisha Jefferson’s hometown.

It continues Sunday when MSU plays Detroit for guard Mandy Piechowski and finishes Nov. 22 when the Spartans play Western Michigan in Grand Rapids for center Allyssa DeHaan.

The other captain, center Lauren Aitch, is from Lansing.

“The only way to take kids back home, except for Lauren Aitch, is to leave the building, and that’s really why I did it,” Merchant said. “It’s more about the players having the opportunity to play in front of their friends and family.”

Jefferson said her “eyes lit up” when she was told the Spartans would be playing at Dayton this season.

“It’s kind of fitting that I go back home my last season here, so I was excited,” Jefferson said, also noting that she can’t let her emotions get in the way of her focus for the game.

“They were very excited, I think appreciative, too,” Merchant said. “There’s nothing like your hometown. Those people know you the best. That’s where the majority of your years were and they like to come back, especially in your senior year.”

Jefferson said she spent a lot of time as a ball girl at the University of Dayton Arena as a child, so she always was around.

“It was something I was always involved with growing up,” Jefferson said. “Being a ball girl, going to U-D camps, playing there in high school, so it was something I was always around.”

Merchant said Dayton, coming off a second round appearance in the WNIT last season, is “very skilled at all positions,” and is scrappy in terms of rebounding, a potential problem area for the Spartans.

“We haven’t been doing as well on the offensive and defensive boards as we should and we have to get a little bit tougher,” she said.

Even though Merchant scheduled these games for her seniors, it does mean the Spartans open the year with two road games.

“Like coach mentioned, if we do have a weakness or something we need to work on, we can see them early rather than later,” junior guard Brittney Thomas said of the early road tests.

The Spartans face the Flyers at 7 p.m. tonight and Detroit at noon Sunday.

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