This season had been anything but expected for Michigan State women’s basketball. From injuries to COVID-19 issues to mid-season transfers, MSU’s seniors were tasked with leading their team through just about everything that could have been thrown at them.
“If you look at what we had to endure, I know nobody in the league went through what we had to, and so to be in every single game and win the games that we did, I think it says a lot about that senior class and that leadership,” Michigan State Head Coach Suzy Merchant said.
The first blow to the MSU lineup happened a day before the season started when it was announced that veterans junior forward Julia Ayrault and senior forward Tory Ozment were out for the season with a torn foot ligament and ACL, respectively. Then the Spartans lost another veteran starter in December 2021 when junior guard Alyza Winston transferred to Mississippi State.
The hits didn't stop after that. Junior guard Moira Joiner entered concussion protocol and was ruled out for the rest of the season in mid-January. The Spartans also struggled with COVID-19 issues with freshman guard DeeDee Hagemann, graduate student guard Laurel Jacqmain and Merchant all forced to sit out with the virus at some point during the season. Hagemann also entered concussion protocol and was unavailable for the game against Wisconsin on Feb. 16. Shortly after that game, freshman guard Isaline Alexander went out with a knee injury and didn't return until the Feb. 27 matchup against Ohio State
“I think that we could’ve panicked,” Merchant said. “It felt like at times the moat was sinking. Every time we turned around, somebody was going down: COVID, concussions, knees, complete season ending, half the season.”
Despite the adversity, the four graduating players, Jacqmain, senior guard Nia Clouden, graduate student forward Tamara Farquhar and graduate student forward Alisia Smith kept the spirits of their younger teammates lifted.
“It’s really easy to be discouraged and those four really banded together and made sure that didn’t happen," Merchant said. “They did it in practice. They did it in film. They did it in the locker room where it was probably the most important to keep people together. ... To see them fight, come together and find a way, it’s a really powerful thing when you band together and compete every day. I think it has to stem from somewhere besides the coaches and that senior class definitely made sure we are doing that.”
Even the senior leadership needs a leader, and that was Clouden. The only four-year senior, Clouden will finish her career at MSU the second-highest scorer of all time with 1,852 points.
“We call her the GOAT but like, geniunely, she is the GOAT,” Farquhar said. “She deserves all the accolades that she gets. I think she still deserves more than what she's gotten so far. It's been nice playing against her when I was at Purdue and playing alongside her just seeing how great of a person and what she brings to the game.”
The young team will need to look to their seniors once more when they take on Purdue in the first round of the Big Ten tournament on Thursday. If the Spartans hope to make the NCAA tournament and keep their post-season hopes alive they will need to win out to automatically qualify.
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