Fairy tales don’t always have happy endings.
When Mississippi State lost to Duke in the second round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, it wasn’t the longest postseason run MSU has ever had. It wasn’t the most high-profile game the program had ever been in, and it was far from the best game the Bulldogs have ever played, especially this year.
The 27 wins were the most in school history by more than a couple. The 11 conference victories and third-place finish in the SEC were tops in the maroon and white record books. Single-game attendance records were set then broken over the course of the year, and the full-season home crowd record was smashed, tens of thousands making their way to The Hump to watch the Bulldogs.
Building a program is supposed to take time, but head coach Vic Schaefer cares little for the calendar most expected him to follow. In just three years, he’s taken MSU quite literally from the bottom to the top, resurrecting a once-proud program and taking it to greater heights even than the SEC legend who preceded him.
“I’m proud of my team, proud of the fight in my kids, proud to be at Mississippi State University and see us represent it on a national stage,” Schaefer told reporters after Sunday’s game. “If you’re a Bulldog, I don’t think there’s any doubt in the sense of pride you have in our program, these young ladies and our university.”
Said senior guard Kendra Grant, “Just to see what we came from, for me to witness it transform over the years has been amazing. To be a part of it is even better.”
While the final game of Schaefer’s third season wasn’t what he wanted in any fashion, the year as a whole is marked as incredibly successful for Schaefer, and most importantly, it’s classified as an immensely promising jump-start for the future.
MSU’s defensive MVP in 2014-15 was sophomore Dominique Dillingham. Freshman Victoria Vivians led the conference in scoring and was named the best collegiate player in the state of Mississippi. The catalyst for State’s first-round win over Tulane was sophomore forward Breanna Richardson. And any who have watched their share of MSU games this year will say that while others may have fuller stat lines, the most exciting player to watch on the court is freshman point guard Morgan William.
The future isn’t just bright for MSU. It’s already here.
“We should be pretty good, as long as the coach doesn’t screw them up, for the next three or four years,” Schaefer joked earlier this week.
And that’s just with the players already on the roster. MSU has recruited better and better with each year, as Schaefer has often said that his goal is for every recruiting class he has to be better than the before it. His last one might be hard to top, but he and his staff will certainly and if they bring in anywhere near that caliber of players on a consistent basis, the Bulldogs won’t be good for just three or four years. They’ll be good for the next decade, or whenever Schaefer decides to hang up the whistle and spend his retirement on his fishing boat.
“We continue to recruit well,” Schaefer said. “I feel really, really good about our future. I just love our competitiveness and toughness. You cannot deny the competitiveness and toughness and the desire in our kids. They define what Mississippi State is about.”
Perhaps it’s not fair to call this the end of the fairy tale, but just the end of a chapter. The story Schaefer will write at Mississippi State is just beginning.
“We have a lot more to accomplish,” Vivians said Sunday. “I think the future is bright.”