Monday, September 20, 2021

Merchant happy with successful season, ready for next season

March 30, 2011
Women's basketball head coach Suzy Merchant smiles during a post-season press conference Wednesday evening at Breslin Center. Matt Hallowell/The State News
Women's basketball head coach Suzy Merchant smiles during a post-season press conference Wednesday evening at Breslin Center. Matt Hallowell/The State News —
Photo by Matt Hallowell | The State News

There’s not much left at Breslin Center now. The court has been torn up and the hoops removed, only to be replaced with a few dozen tables for some sort of banquet. All that remains for a Spartan basketball fan is the lingering smell of roasted almonds and images of a historic season for the MSU women’s basketball team.

Although it certainly ended in disappointment — a 65-56 loss to Wisconsin-Green Bay in the second round of the NCAA Tournament — MSU head coach Suzy Merchant said there was a lot to take from this season at her final roundtable press conference.

“Big Ten champions, that’s not bad,” Merchant said. “I feel pretty good about it. I feel strongly about the way we performed. Defensively I think we’re very solid and have gotten ourselves in positions to be successful.”

Before the Spartans truly can look forward to next season, they will have to graduate a senior class that leaves behind a legacy of talent, hard work and leadership, something Merchant has said all season about the class of 2011 and reiterated Wednesday night.

Next year, there will be a lot of holes to fill, but Merchant said she is very confident in her future frontcourt. After a year where MSU shattered the school’s 3-point record and played outside-in basketball, the head coach expects change next season when the Spartans welcome back redshirt freshman center Madison Williams.

Williams will pair up under the basket with junior forward Lykendra Johnson, who happens to be the returning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

“We didn’t really have that true big, we could do it with (Johnson) and (Keane) a little bit, but I’m kind of excited to maybe transition (to a post game) a little bit more … Defensively we’ll be based on matchups as we always do, but offensively we’ll be kind of interchangeable. Kind of have more of a power game, obviously.”

Unlike this season, the Spartans will have depth at every position, barring another injury.

Incoming freshman Becca Mills, AP Class A Player of the Year, and Jasmine Hines, the Michigan Gatorade Player of the Year who broke the state’s career points and rebounding records, will look to have an immediate impact.

Guards Jasmine Thomas and Porsche Poole also will return with another year under their belts and junior forward Taylor Alton likely will resume her starting role after a solid performance in the NCAA Tournament.

Freshman guard Klarissa Bell, who Merchant said has the potential to be a “fantastic” (and she put an emphasis on fantastic) basketball player for MSU, also will return with one year in the books.

Merchant said freshman Annalise Pickrel will relinquish her role as backup center with Williams returning to the team and will return to the small forward, where she is more comfortable and expected to compete with redshirt junior Courtney Schiffauer for playing time.

The biggest question will be who can replace the intangible factors that this year’s senior class brought, especially leadership. At one point in the season, Merchant mentioned how many of the players on the team looked up to the seniors and aspired to be like them.

But Merchant is confident that Johnson will not be the only vocal player on next year’s squad. She already is seeing a lot of things she likes, mentioning the work ethic of Williams to get back in game shape and the work ethic of Alton to improve as well.

“I feel confident our kids are going to work as hard as anybody else,” Merchant said. “(Picking captains) is about who are they going to listen to and who will lead the pack. I think there’s leaders in that youth and I think there’s leaders in the veterans too.”

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