The Michigan State senior class of Mardrekia Cook, Claire Hendrickson and Laurel Jacqmain has been through the trials and tribulations that basketball can bring. With injuries for Cook and Hendrickson and trying to find a role on a team she joined late for Jacqmain, this senior class experienced it all.
On senior day, Michigan State head coach Suzy Merchant tried to make all those sacrifices worth it.
“I think I just want them to walk off the court knowing how much we appreciate them and what they've done for us.”
All three seniors entered the starting lineup to begin the day against Wisconsin. In shootaround, Hendrickson stood near the top of the key and repeatedly took jumpers from beyond the arc from one spot.
That was planned.
After the tip, Hendrickson rolled off of a flare screen set by her fellow senior Cook, she moved to her right and drilled the jumper she has been practicing in warmups.
“We thought we’d give it a try and she felt confident enough, so I said, 'Okay if we get on defense first or they win the tip, that’s fine we’ll get you that offense,’” Merchant said. “We ran that flare screen for her and said, ‘If you’re open shoot it and then when we get back on defense, get a foul.’ We told the refs we were going to foul just to get her off because I wasn't sure how she was going to be able to handle it. We had the game plan, right, of what we were going to do, but she still has to hit the shot, right, and for her to be that open, I don’t know, that just warmed my heart.”
“It felt good,” Hendrickson said. “When I was shooting in warmups, some would feel good and it would be too far because I’ve been in the weight room, but I haven’t really been shooting, so I was like, I had to have the perfect medium of just the right shot, so, when I let go of it, I was like, ‘Please don’t be long, please don’t be long ... and just go in.’ Really I was just praying it would go in when I let it go.”
After suffering multiple knee injuries and undergoing multiple medical treatments, Hendrickson decided to call it a career despite having years of eligibility remaining. This moment for Hendrickson was the one she expected to have many of when she arrived in East Lansing, but that shot still meant the world to her as she spent her final moments in an MSU uniform doing what she did best prior to the injuries.
“The past four years have been incredible with the experiences I have been able to see and do” Hendrickson said. “Traveling and going to places I have never been and probably never will again. It’s just been an opportunity that I definitely haven’t taken for granted. Meeting my teammates, getting close with them, becoming sisters, becoming that family, it’s been incredible.”
Cook knows a thing or two about injuries. After tearing her Achilles and ACL in her career, Merchant wasn’t sure she would return for this season.
This season, Cook tore her meniscus but has continued to play through the injury as the “warrior” her team knows she is. After draining a three to get the lead up to 16 for her team, she dove for a loose ball on the next possession despite the injury to her knee.
“The fact that she’s just out here trying to find a way is just very rewarding,” Merchant said. “It’s not surprising, she’s really worked on her three-ball a little bit because her power left her with some of the injuries, so she was really working on becoming maybe more of a pick and pop guy for us at times. Of course, you can’t stop her defensively with loose balls and charges and things like that, that’s just who ‘Drekia is.”
Alyza Winston helped lead her seniors to victory on Saturday afternoon, as her and Taiyier Parks led the team with 14 points each. For Winston, this senior class and Cook, in particular, meant a lot.
Jacqmain didn’t get her senior moment in the game like Hendrickson’s or Cook’s shot, but that selflessness is what made Jacqmain’s career at Michigan State so successful and why Merchant is looking to have her back for one more season.
“Lo as a walk-on for us ... if they’re the right ones, they can be so impactful and she is definitely one of the right ones,” Merchant said. “If I pulled up the shot tracker app right now, we have those shot trackers and they all wear chips when they shoot so they can track that, by far, by none, she has taken the most shots on my team and probably played the least amount of minutes and she does not care. That’s who she is, she does it every day regardless. She’s doing extra conditioning, she’s always lifting, I mean she’s in here two to three times a day as a walk-on.”
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As the lights dimmed on the final night at home for this senior class, they know that they can say they left it all out on the floor.
“The last few years, me and Drekia obviously dealing with injuries together and Lo coming in, we took her under our wing as soon she got here,” Hendrickson said. “It was eally cool to have two people with me, technically I would have been alone, so it was really cool to have those two with me. Awesome people, awesome hearts, I love them to death, they’re definitely my sisters for life. It’s been really special.”
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