October 16, 2009 8:29:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- It''s time for the Mississippi State women''s basketball team to face its expectations.
The anticipation for the 2009-10 season has been building at Mississippi State since March when the Lady Bulldogs ended a 23-10 season with a loss to Ohio State in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The NCAA tournament appearance was the program''s first since the 2002-03 season, and its 23 victories were the third most in a season.
The expectations surrounding the program increased in the offseason. Coach Sharon Fanning-Otis received a contract extension, Lindy''s College Basketball magazine ranked MSU ranked No. 25 in its poll of the nation''s best teams, and the Lady Bulldogs had the highest number of players make their times in the preseason mile run.
Today, Fanning-Otis and her players will officially get down to business when they hold their first practice as a team at 6:30 p.m.
The workout will be the first of a busy weekend that Fanning-Otis hopes will help set the tone for what she believes will be an exciting season.
Fanning-Otis said she is interested to see how hard the Lady Bulldogs will be willing to prepare to work and who will step in to replaces the loss of graduated seniors Robin Porter, Donnisha Tate, and Lauren Roberts.
"If you look at last year, you''re talking about how are we going to finish up?" Fanning-Otis said. "This year, I am thinking how much further are we going to go?"
MSU will play eight games against teams ranked in Lindy''s poll this season, including a Nov. 22 home date against Maryland, which is ranked No. 19.
MSU also will play No. 18 Texas and No. 8 Rutgers in November at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands, at No. 13 Xavier, Vanderbilt (home and away as part of the SEC''s 16-game schedule), Tennessee (on Jan. 10 at home), and at LSU (Feb. 28).
Fanning-Otis called the schedule the "toughest" the program has faced in her time as coach. She hopes her players will rise to the challenge and use their experience and compete like a team that deserves to be ranked.
"Now there is more of a target on your back," Fanning-Otis said. "You have to finish what you started. Our finish is not accepting anything but something better than what we had last year."
MSU was last ranked in the Associated Press poll on March 17, 2003, the final poll for that season.
MSU returns five players (four seniors) who started at least 10 of the team''s 33 games last season.
Senior guard Alexis Rack, a first-team All-SEC pick, and classmates Armelie Lumanu and Chanel Mokango, members of the All-SEC Defensive Team, and Tysheka Grimes will give the Lady Bulldogs the experience they will need to compete in the SEC.
MSU also figures to have plenty of backcourt depth with the return of senior Marneshia Richard (missed all of 2008-09 with a knee injury), junior Mary Kathryn Govero, and sophomore Diamber Johnson.
The returning players from last season helped MSU defeat No. 6 seed Texas 71-63 in the first round of the NCAA tournament before it lost to No. 3 seed Ohio State 64-58 in the second round at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
Fanning-Otis said Rack and Danielle Rector, who recently returned from an infection, are the only players who haven''t made their mile times. She said Rack was close to making her time Thursday and will try to do it today.
Fanning-Otis said the biggest question mark the Lady Bulldogs will face this season is how they handle the expectations.
"How mature are we going to play?" Fanning-Otis said. "Are we going to play like a senior class? ... Our young players are going to fit in, but the senior class has to step up. They have to work exceptionally hard because there are so many of them. We are looking for this challenge of how good do you want to be? I always believe it is the will to prepare to win. You can put too much pressure on yourself if you start looking at ranking and what you did at the end of the year last year, but those successes have to carry over. Success breeds success."
MSU will face Delta State on Nov. 1 in a closed scrimmage at Humphrey Coliseum. The Lady Bulldogs will play host to Monticello in an exhibition game at 2 p.m. Nov. 8. They will open the season at 5 p.m. Nov. 13 against the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
n NOTES: MSU will hold a Lady Bulldog Basketball Clinic from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday Oct. 17 for booster club members and fans. Participants will get a behind-the-scenes look at two team practices, a video scouting session, and a chance to be involved in an on-court session with the coaching staff. During lunch, which will be provided, a question and answer session will take place. Pre-registration for booster members is $40 while pre-registration for non-members is $50. The day of clinic registration is $50 for members and $60 for non-members. To register, call 662-325-5465.. ... The team also will hold an open house/ribbon cutting ceremony for its new locker room inside Humphrey Coliseum at 2 p.m. Oct. 24. The event will start with an open house and a tour of the new home of the Lady Bulldogs and will be followed by a ceremony at 2:45 p.m.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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