As if a battle with Ohio State to win the Big Ten title outright wasn’t enough pressure for the No. 10 MSU women’s basketball team, the Spartans also will have to do battle to withhold their own emotions.
For the final time, seniors Kalisha Keane, Brittney Thomas, Cetera Washington and Jasmine Holmes will lace up their shoes and race out to the Breslin Center floor.
And for the final time, they will feel what it is like to be welcomed to the court by the Spartan Nation.
Although MSU women’s basketball head coach Suzy Merchant has referred to the class of 2011 repeatedly as “eighth-year seniors” because of the amount of minutes they have tallied in their careers, this veteran group still will own a chance to experience firsts in their final home game.
The night will mark the first time the seniors will hoist a Big Ten trophy and raise a banner.
That banner forever will remain in the rafters of Breslin Center and signify the legacy this group leaves for future generations.
“What makes us work is we don’t think of ourselves as an elite program and we’re blue collar and we work hard,” Thomas said.
“We want to bring in talent but everyone who comes in whether they were All-American or not in high school know, ‘look, you’re good, but we all work here.’”
With a win over Ohio State, the class also would make school history as the first group of seniors to lead their team to an outright conference title.
It might sound simple, but one of the last things the Buckeyes likely want to do is watch as MSU celebrates an accomplishment they had earned for the previous five years.
“We’ve always been second to Ohio State and that’s just something we didn’t want (our) senior year at all,” Washington said.
“That was one of our main things and to do it here at Breslin with us being able to cut down a net … That’s something we had a goal of.”
First Team All-American Jantel Lavender is a senior herself and although she won’t get shipped off with a conference title as she might have hoped, she surely could find some comfort in preventing too much of a postgame celebration by the new champs with a Buckeyes’ victory.
Lavender, who leads the league in scoring (22.7) and rebounds (10.8), certainly will be a handful, but the Spartans believe they can bounce back from their 67-53 loss in the last meeting between the teams.
Merchant said it was “probably fitting” that the win needed to project the 2010-11 Spartans into the history books would be on senior day against Ohio State, a team that MSU finished behind in conference play the past five seasons.
Thomas said she feels like this last game is comparative to the end of a movie.
Senior day, a chance to make history and to close the season out being undefeated at home.
“I swear there’s going to be producers here tomorrow or something,” Thomas said.
When Merchant looks back on this season, she said it won’t be the special talent on the court that the class of 2011 had that first will come to mind, rather it will be the leadership, passion and energy they brought to every game.
“They have a real business approach to it,” Merchant said.
“I don’t think they ever get too high or too low, it’s kind of, ‘roll up your sleeves and go to work.’ But I do think that would mean a lot to that team.”
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Although nervous, Washington said she is more than optimistic about the game.
“With the group of girls we do have here, it’s going to happen,” she said.
“There’s no doubt in my mind. I trust these girls with all my heart and I just think we’re going to go out here, fight to the end and come out with the victory.”
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