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Despite loss of 4 seniors, next season looks bright for MSU

April 13, 2010

Junior guard Brittney Thomas looks to pass past Iowa guard Kamille Wahlin during the Spartans’ semifinal game of the Big Ten Tournament on March 6 at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

The MSU women’s basketball team is going to look significantly different next season.

The loss of the team’s four pillars — seniors Lauren Aitch, Allyssa DeHaan, Aisha Jefferson and Mandy Piechowski — is going to leave a lot of room for others to step in and take hold of the program.

Head coach Suzy Merchant specifically is looking toward juniors Kalisha Keane, Brittney Thomas and Cetera Washington, along with sophomore Lykendra Johnson, to step in and become the new generation of leaders.

“The kids that are returning have a pretty strong sense of where they want to be and the pace they want to continue at,” Merchant said Monday at her season wrap-up press conference.

With the team losing much of its post presence, Merchant said she expects to have a “similar feel” to the men’s basketball team.

“We can still run a lot of the same things, but I think our transition pace needs to pick up a little bit then,” Merchant said. “We’re going to have some speed at the four or five position that maybe we didn’t have, so we have to use that to our advantage and try to do a better job of scoring quicker.”

Still, losing what the team has in the post is going to leave a void.

“A question mark would be the post play because three of our four seniors were post players,” Merchant said.

“All three of them could have started, and they played significant minutes. If there is any kind of concern, it is the youth and inexperience that we have in the post.”

Merchant also gets sophomore forward Courtney Schiffauer back. Schiffauer missed all but two games with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and is expected to be full strength for next season.

Merchant stressed that the team needs more out of Johnson, a great athlete who hasn’t always played to her potential.

“She doesn’t really understand the tools she has now,” Merchant said. “She’s pretty raw. Her ball-handling needs to really improve. She has to be able to crossover and change directions. She needs to be able to knock shots down a little bit.”

New faces

Merchant will welcome three of the state’s top players to East Lansing next season, bringing in center Madison Williams (Detroit Country Day,) Klarissa Bell (East Lansing) and Annalise Pickrel (Grand Rapid Catholic Central). She expects all three to be contributors for the 2010-11 season. They will start at MSU in time for second session summer classes in the beginning of July.

The 6-foot-7 Williams is Merchant’s most heralded recruit. She was selected as a McDonald’s All-American and was named the Gatorade Michigan Player of the Year.

“Getting Madison was a big deal because of her capabilities and her potential,” Merchant said. “She has the ability to change the game right away for us.”

Williams will draw comparisons to DeHaan due to her height. Merchant said Williams is more physical than DeHaan, but her offensive skills aren’t as far along as DeHaan’s were at that time.

“The one thing that is a little intimidating for Madison is the conditioning piece,” Merchant said. “She’s never been in superb condition. I think it’s hard for big girls to get there, but I don’t think in high school you ever really get to that element. And we all know the level of commitment to the conditioning piece you have to have, and she’s expressed that.”

Bell, a 5-foot-11 guard, was named Michigan’s Miss Basketball, and Merchant described her as “long, lean, athletic and quick.”

Pickrel finished second behind Bell for Miss Basketball and as a 6-foot-3 guard, is expected to produce plenty of matchup problems.

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“She could be the best out of all of them,” Merchant said. “Her versatility is ridiculous. She could be a point guard or a post man. She’s got a drive about her that’s very different. She’s very vocal. She’s very driven.”

Watch out

Next season, the Spartans will play at 2010 Memphis Regional Champion Baylor (featuring center Brittney Griner) and will host Texas and Dayton at Breslin Center. MSU also will head on the road for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Merchant said she did a better job of balancing the next year’s schedule compared to this season’s.

“We’ll have our challenges, there’s no question,” Merchant said. “We have some quality opponents there; we just don’t have them all in a row.”

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