Mississippi State’s new women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer is honest about the biggest challenge he faces in year one, but his hope is to find a way to turn his enemy into his ally.
“You can always talk about youth in a negative way,” Schaefer said, “but we’ve really tried to accentuate that as a positive.”
Nearly half of last year’s team was seniors, leaving this year’s Lady Dawgs pretty green. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, Schaefer said.
In the youth, he recognizes a fair bit of athleticism and talent. The challenge now is to cultivate it and win games with it.
His main concern for all, though, is defense. Schaefer earned his moniker the Secretary of Defense through his stringent and detailed approach to that side of the ball, and through 20 practices, he’s seeing early positive results.
So much so, he’s ready to see his team in action in tomorrow night’s exhibition in The Hump just so he can see what his team is able to do on offense.
“Because of the way we play, a lot of times it’s hard to get a good feel for what we’re able to offensively,” Schaefer said. “Quite frankly, we’re doing some things on defense that keep us from doing some things, but that’s what we want to do.”
Much like Rick Ray’s men’s squad, Schaefer has two players returning who saw significant action last season, though neither was the top option.
Sophomore Marth Alwal, a shot-blocking forward, and sophomore Kendra Grant, a talented guard.
Schaefer says it’s a big adjustment to go from a No. 4 or 5 option to one of the main people being depended on, and he hasn’t yet seen anyone step into that role. He is hopeful, however, and has told grant he’d like for her to assume that role.
Once he finds his star, or stars, the goal for he and the coaching staff is to do everything they can to get the most out of them.
As for Alwal, a defensive presence, to be sure, Schaefer is excited for her potential, but recognizes the issues that can arise with a shot-blocking specialist.
“She likes to block shots, and she’s good at it,” Schaefer said. “At the same time, people will set her up for that. Next thing you know, she’s got two blocks but she’s also got two fouls.”
One who has stood out to him on that side of the ball is Carnecia Williams, a fellow forward who Schaefer called the best help-defender on the team.
“If you’re gonna play for us, that’s something you’re going to have to be good at,” Schaefer said.
He’s also found his best athlete on the team, “by far,” he says, in freshman Sherise Williams, who he said is long, athletic and every bit as tall as Alwal.
Schaefer has been pleased with progress made, but what he wants to see, and what he wants to happen consistently, is relatively simple. He just wants his team to consecutive days of strong practices. No steps back.
“When you have a young team like we have, that maturity level and the ability to stack good days is hard,” Schaefer said. “But that’s our challenge.”