October 21, 2014 10:32:54 AM
STARKVILLE -- Martha Alwal doesn't like to talk about herself.
That's why you won't hear the 6-foot-4 center discussing how she earned first-team All-Southeastern Conference honors from the league coaches and The Associated Press last season after leading the team in scoring (14.9 points per game).
You also won't hear Alwal bragging about how she was named to the SEC's All-Defensive team for the second-straight year or how she shared its defensive player of the year award after finishing third in the league in rebounding (8.8 per game) and first in blocked shots (2.7).
But Alwal is more than happy to discuss new diet options she hopes will help her have an even better senior season for the Mississippi State women's basketball team.
"I do feel better," Alwal said. "The whole 'You are what you eat' thing, that is real. I am starting to eat a lot healthier, and I am feeling it out on the court. I can run for longer periods of time without being as winded, so I am eating better. I also am trying to push myself through fatigue this year."
MSU and the rest of the SEC's women's basketball teams are in Charlotte, North Carolina, today for the first day of the league's media days. The men's teams will take center stage Wednesday. Today, Alwal likely will find herself in a familiar position: as a member of one of the All-SEC teams. It remains to be seen where MSU will be picked in the preseason poll, but there is a lot of excitement surrounding the program after it went 22-14 and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Women's National Invitation Tournament last season. The hope is Alwal, who enters her senior campaign as the SEC's active career leader with 257 blocks, 824 rebounds, and 31 double-doubles, will help lead the way for the Bulldogs.
"I can't be satisfied," Alwal said. "I know there is a lot more in me."
Those expectations are part of the reason Alwal has altered her eating habits. For someone who said she is "obsessed" with carbohydrates, like bread and spaghetti and desserts, trying to eat those things in moderation has been a challenge. She also is trying to curb her sweet tooth and limit the amount of candy she eats, as well as stop drinking "pop," or soda, so if you offer Alwal a Snickers bar, you might incur the wrath of MSU coach Vic Schaefer.
The fact that Alwal can't cook might hurt her ability to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into her diet, so if you know good place to get strawberries, apples, or mangoes, let Alwal know. She isn't picky when it comes to vegetables, so she is open to suggestions.
Schaefer is more than happy to give his input. While he also enjoys eating healthy, Schaefer would prefer to save his comments for Alwal's play on the court. While Alwal has improved greatly from a player who averaged 5.4 points and 7.2 rebounds as a freshman at MSU, Schaefer has said throughout the past two seasons he believes there is plenty of room for Alwal to grow as a player. He hopes all of that comes out this season.
"As you have seen, we took a kid who was averaging five points a game and she is second-team All-SEC in year with us and in year two she is first-team All-SEC and co-defensive players of the year," Schaefer said. "I still think she has leaps and bounds that she can make."
Alwal understands Schaefer wants her to do more, which is why she has worked hard to get stronger and to be in better shape for her final season. Earlier this month at practice, Alwal looked stronger moving through drills and moved more confidently in team settings going against 6-5 sophomore center Chinwe Okorie, who is eligible to play after missing last season. The presence of Okorie and the addition of a recruiting class that was ranked No. 20 in the nation by Dan Olson of espnW's HoopGurlz should give Alwal a little more help and allow her to play fewer minutes than the 33.2 per game she averaged last season.
"I think it will come," Alwal said. "I am starting to see it in practice a little more. I am a little more confident asking for the ball and trying to score, so I am seeing it a little bit in practice. I am going to have to reach down and get it because I still kind of shy away from being that player all the time. I need to embrace that aspect of my game."
Alwal knows her statistics might slip a little because MSU has more options and players like sophomore Breanna Richardson or Dominique Dillingham have improved their games. That's fine with Alwal, though, because she gladly will talk about what those players do for the Bulldogs if it means she won't have to talk about herself. Still, Alwal knows she can't be a silent partner on or off the court if MSU is to realize the expectations many have for the program this season.
"Whoever is producing, they are the ones that deserve to be on the floor," Alwal said. "If Chinwe is having a heck of a game, keep her in there and I will be on the sideline cheering for her.
"As for having less minutes, I think will be fine with it. Playing 25 minutes a game, I think it will be easier for me to go out there and play harder knowing I am going to get a break, unlike last year when I had to play 35 or 40 minutes a game and I would take a lot of plays off because I was so tired and I knew there was no one to get me. I think it is going to help me this year."
MSU will play host to a Maroon-White scrimmage Oct. 30 and an exhibition Nov. 9 against Arkansas-Fort Smith Nov. 9. It will open the season at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 14, against Mercer in the opening round of the Preseason WNIT.
n In related news, Fans can learn the ins and outs of basketball with Schaefer and the women's basketball staff in the first Hail State Hoops 101. The event will be from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Nov. 4 in the Mize Pavilion at Humphrey Coliseum.
The cost is $25, and includes dinner, a gift, an autographed poster, and the opportunity to interact with Schaefer, his staff, and players as they teach the details of the game.
Fans are encouraged to RSVP by Oct. 28 by calling 662-325-0198.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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