March 28, 2013 10:44:27 AM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
STARKVILLE -- Vic Schaefer joked Wednesday night that the honeymoon is over for his tenure as the Mississippi State University women's basketball coach.
Martha Alwal and Kendra Grant learned enough in their first seasons with Schaefer to know that things aren't going to change any as they and MSU move forward.
"I think next season is going to be a little easier because we know what to expect from them and we know what they want defensively," Alwal said.
Said Grant, "I think we have a taste of everything. We have a taste of their coaching style and how they want things done. Next year, with the people coming in, I think it will be a pretty good season."
The offseason officially started Wednesday night following the MSU's annual banquet at the Hunter Henry Center. Dubbed a "night of celebration" by Schaefer, MSU handed out awards and remembered the "little victories" and the "small steps forward" the Bulldogs took in their first season with a new coaching staff. Although Schaefer, whose nickname is the "Secretary of Defense," lamented a disappointing loss to the University of Alabama in the first round of the Southeastern Conference that squashed any hopes the team had of playing in a postseason tournament, he didn't belabor the point and instead focused on the highlights of the season and the pride he had in his players for their hard work.
"Our expectations haven't changed," said Schaefer, the former assistant and associate head coach at Texas A&M University and the University of Arkansas. "We still want to win, we want to be in postseason, we want to compete for championships. Those things involve a process. We are in the first stage now. We haven't even got our kids in here yet."
One of Schaefer's best memories of the season came when he watched Alwal, a 6-foot-4 sophomore center, represent MSU in winning the Gillom Award, which goes to the state of Mississippi's best player. He admitted he was still a little angry at Alwal for her performance against Alabama in the final game of the season, but he said Alwal, who had 16 double-doubles this season, has a "tremendous" upside that he and his coaches will try to bring out.
Alwal and her teammates credited Schaefer and the coaches for being demanding and holding them accountable. Even though the final record of 13-17 didn't meet their expectations, they agree things are on the right track.
"I think now I have to want more from myself," said Alwal, who was named team MVP and Miss Defense. "This year I got awards, and I am proud of what I got, but I have to reach for higher expectations next year. More than that, I want to get our team to the NCAA tournament next year."
Jessy Ward received the team's academic award for having a 4.0 grade-point average, Sherise Williams received the Rookie Award, Candace Foster received the Sixth-Man Award and the Tommy and Terri Nusz Most Outstanding Bulldog Award, Katia May received the Miss Hustle Award, and Grant received the Miss Offense Award.
"Even though we lost more than we won, we had some big wins, like the Georgia game, the Arkansas game, the Missouri game," Grant said. "We know we can actually do that, and we can do it more than once. We want to keep that mind-set going into next year and put it into the brains of the freshmen we have coming in next year."
The 50-38 victory against then-No. 11 University of Georgia, which is still alive in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, was MSU's first against a ranked team since 2010.
Seniors Brittany Young and Darriel Gaynor also had a chance to give remarks at the end of the banquet. Young, who will graduate in three years, credited the coaches for teaching her the definition of average and how not to settle for things. Fittingly, she said "this isn't the end" in her speech, which could be a mantra the 2013-14 Bulldogs use to motivate them to realize Alwal's goal.
Schaefer said players like Young and May, who will graduate in three and a half years, will be the "norm" for the program moving forward. He said his and the expectations of his coaches will be about doing things the right way and winning. He said he wasn't hired to lose to the University of Southern Mississippi -- or the University of Mississippi, for that matter -- and those losses will drive him to move MSU up the SEC pecking order.
"I told them today there was an old bumper sticker at (Texas) A&M in the late 1970s because it was always about their football team and wait until next year, wait until next year," Schaefer said. "Well, you know what, next year is here. That is what the bumper sticker would say, 'Next year is here.' Next year is here for these kids."
NOTES: Redshirt sophomore Carnecia Williams had surgery last Thursday on her left knee to "tighten up" a loose knee cap, according to Schaefer. He said she is on a three- to four-month rehabilitation plan that should help her be at 100 percent for the start of training in the summer. Williams received the team's Most Improved Player Award.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.