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Suzy Merchant previews season, discusses leadership at Big Ten Media Days

October 8, 2021
<p>Michigan State women's basketball head coach Suzy Merchant speaks at Big Ten media day in Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind. on Oct. 8, 2021. Merchant spoke highly of her veterans on the team, specifically senior guard Nia Clouden, saying "When she goes. We go."</p>

Michigan State women's basketball head coach Suzy Merchant speaks at Big Ten media day in Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind. on Oct. 8, 2021. Merchant spoke highly of her veterans on the team, specifically senior guard Nia Clouden, saying "When she goes. We go."

Photo by Devin Anderson-Torrez | The State News

Michigan State women’s basketball Head Coach Suzy Merchant led off Friday’s Big Ten Media Days session at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis with comments about experience, new faces and the impending return of fans.

At the first in-person media days session since 2019, Merchant shared a well-tempered enthusiasm for the upcoming season and an appreciation for the Big Ten’s status within women’s basketball.

“It’s October,” Merchant said. “Every coach is undefeated so everybody’s excited about their team right now.”

Michigan State returns plenty of talent, including first-team All-Big Ten senior guard Nia Clouden, junior guard Alyza Winston, junior guard Julia Ayrault and senior guard/forward Tory Ozment, three of which were in the top five in scoring on last season’s NCAA Tournament team. Merchant said they’ve already benefited from this experience and will be leaning on it to steady the team throughout the early stages of the season.

“With the experience we have, I expect us to do well,” Merchant said. “I think we’re further ahead right now after eight days of practice then we’ve been at any time really, especially on the offensive side of the ball.”

While the program hasn’t named captains in any capacity yet, Merchant indicated that Clouden is an expected captain and leader on the team due to her experience on and off the court.

“When she goes, we go,” she said of Clouden.

In lieu of appointing permanent captains at the start of the season, the Spartans selected captains on a week-to-week basis during last season’s campaign. Merchant said this strategy helped improve the team’s sense of “ownership” and is considering sticking with this model of leadership.

Michigan State added plenty of new faces through recruitment and the transfer portal this offseason with freshman guard DeeDee Hageman, freshman forward Isaline Alexander and sophomore forward Matilda Ekh looking primed to contribute in their first seasons. Graduate forward Tamara Farquhar also joins the team after transferring from Purdue this offseason.

Merchant shed some light on Ekh in particular, one of the team’s more unproven but promising players. The Swedish product was unable to play for the Spartans as a freshman due to travel restrictions brought on by COVID-19 and Merchant added that it was a “touch-and-go” process to even get her in East Lansing for this season.

Ekh’s versatility on both sides of the ball and strong shooting provides a new dimension for a team that looks to continue to elevate its offensive profile. Merchant praised these attributes and noted her steady demeanor on the court despite her age.

“She’s a typical European player,” Merchant said. “Very dynamic but very even keel ... even though she’s a freshman and (it’s her) first time on our campus, you feel like she’s a junior or senior in terms of how she plays the game.”

With the much-anticipated return of fans on the horizon, Merchant said she's looking forward to moving on from empty stands and regaining the "home court advantage" their presence brings.

"I do want to thank our marketing team for all the cardboard cutouts but they weren't very loud," Merchant joked.

Michigan State returns to action on Oct. 31 with an exhibition against Northwood University. Tipoff is at 2 p.m. and admission is free.

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