October 9, 2013 9:26:09 PM
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State women's basketball team is taking its new vibe to the streets.
At 6 p.m. Friday, coach Vic Schaefer and the MSU women and Rick Ray and the MSU men's basketball team will participate in Maroon Madness on Creelman Street between Dorman Hall and The Junction. The second-annual event will feature a dunk contest and other games and giveaways involving fans, coaches, and players. Bouncers will be available for children adjacent to the MSU amphitheater. There also will be performances by the Famous Marion Band, MSU cheerleaders, and pom squad.
"It is a different looking group (of players)," Schaefer said Wednesday on an off day after seven days of practice. "I think our skill set has improved, which it should, not only for our returners but also for the five we recruited and brought to campus. For everybody, there is a level of excitement knowing what the new kids bring to the table."
The first 500 fans will receive a free Maroon Madness T-shirt. The event is part of Homecoming weekend that also includes a home soccer match at 7 p.m. Friday against No. 8 Florida.
The anticipation surrounding the start of the women's basketball season also has been felt in season ticket sales. Last season, the program sold 1,204 season tickets for Schaefer's first season. This season, the team is 100 away from breaking the all-time mark of 1,265 season tickets set in 2009.
Coming off a 13-17 season in which the program failed to advance to a postseason tournament for the third-straight year, Schaefer said in the spring at the team banquet that the 2013-14 team would face higher expectations. He said the addition of junior college transfer Savannah Carter and freshmen Ketara Chapel, Dominique Dillingham, Chinwe Okorie, and Breanna Richardson provide depth and an injection of talented enthusiasm.
"Our newbies, as I call them, are not intimidated," Schaefer said. "They are very competitive. Our returners have noticed that every day. If you are to watch practice, we have some real competition going on. If we had to go to battle tomorrow, there would be some different faces in the lineup."
Juniors Martha Alwal, the 2012-13 Gillom Trophy winner for the best women's basketball player in the state of Mississippi, and Kendra Grant return after leading the team in scoring a year ago. Guards Candace Foster and Katia May are the only seniors on the team.
Grant was second on the team in scoring (11.8 points per game) last season, and was the only player to start all 30 games. The former Richland High School standout matured last season and showed a willingness to take the ball to the basket and not be only a jump shooter. She agrees with Schaefer that there is a different feel to the team in practice.
"The start of last year compared to the start of this year are two totally different things," Grant said. "It is because we know now what to expect. Now we know how things are supposed to be and what (the coaches) expect. With the freshmen coming in, it is an awesome feel, even in practice. It feels good. I am excited about the freshmen and how it is going to pan out.
"Vibe is the perfect word. A lot of times when freshmen come in they are iffy about some situations, but they came in and are smart for their age. Just the energy they all bring and with all of us, it is just a push. They are long at every position. I really am excited."
Grant and the Bulldogs hope to showcase that energy Nov. 4 when they play Shorter in an exhibition game at Humphrey Coliseum. MSU will play at 5 p.m. Nov. 8 at Houston in its season opener. It will take play host to Jackson State at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13, in its home opener.
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.