Last year, the Michigan State women’s basketball team made the NCAA tournament after missing it in the year prior. As a No. 9 seed, the Spartans took down in-state rival Central Michigan in an emotional game that saw now senior Shay Colley hit a game winning layup with just over seven seconds remaining.
However, in their next game, Notre Dame and its five future WNBA draft picks dismantled the Spartans in the second round.
The Spartans return this season with high expectations as they bring back more than 71% of their scoring from last year and a highly experienced group of seniors. We’re going to break down some of the biggest factors of why this women’s basketball team has the potential to be special this season.
The Spartans have a group of seniors who are hungry to go out with a bang this season. It starts with East Lansing native Taryn McCutcheon. The guard is a sniper from outside as she made close to 39% of her three pointers last year, and according to McCutcheon, she has put a lot of time in the gym this offseason.
“Switching positions from the one to the two, I think that it really made me see that I had a lot of area to improve in. ... So, in the offseason I focused a lot on finishing and being more aggressive,” McCutcheon said.
Standing at 5-foot-5 tall, McCutcheon just has that “it” factor that every team needs to have to make a special run.
Next is guard Shay Colley, who also plays for the Canadian women’s national basketball team. Colley was heavily recruited out of high school before she chose South Carolina. She transferred to Pittsburgh after playing 11 games for the Gamecocks before eventually finding her way to Head Coach Suzy Merchant’s Spartans. Colley can fill up the stat sheet, as she showed during their matchup with Wright State a year ago when she scored 21 points, had eight rebounds and nine assists, paving the way to a Spartan victory.
Last, but certainly not least, of the seniors are guard Nia Hollie and forward Victoria “Coco” Gaines. Hollie was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and will be counted on to play important minutes for the Spartans this season. Gaines is a force down low providing great post defense and good rebounding which MSU will need after the departure of Jenna Allen.
In her thirteenth year, Merchant has led the Spartans to third or better finishes in eight of the last twelve seasons. She led her squad to a 16-1 record at home last season and is the quickest to 100 wins at MSU in women’s basketball history. Merchant is on her way to making the women’s team a perennial NCAA tournament bid.
It became evident during this year’s midnight madness that this team has a special bond. As time expired, sophomore forward Kayla Belles hit a three-quarter court shot to top off the night. After hitting it, the team swarmed Belles and praised her for the shot.
“That was insane. I could not believe that that went in,” McCutcheon said.
To build chemistry, Merchant brought in Navy Seals, took the team to the play Hamilton and even had a sleepover at her house.
“It’s different than any other year,” sophomore guard Claire Hendrickson said. “We just click on and off the court. We just get each other.”
Merchant believes that the chemistry of this team can take them to the next level.
“When you have a locker room that completes itself, I think it transcends on the court and it’s going to take us to new heights,” Merchant said. “I love our chemistry.”
While this team may not have the WNBA talent it had in Aerial Powers a couple seasons ago, this team has the seniors and a collective will to be great. Add in a highly respected head coach and you’ve got yourself a team that should make a lot of noise this year.