On a somewhat weekly basis in this space, sports and food will be brought together to run through the happenings in Mississippi State athletics and talk about places to eat in Starkville. If you’re only interested one, feel free to scroll right past the other. Sports first, food second.
He avoided the words all through his breakout campaign in the fall, but now, Dak Prescott is talking National Championships.
Not for him, though. He’d like to win one, too, but he surprised Mississippi State’s women’s golf team this week as they were leaving for this weekend’s SEC Championships, and he told the No. 9 team in the country what he thinks they’re capable of.
“Y’all have a chance nobody else has to be the first National Champion at Mississippi State, period. No one else has done it,” Prescott accurately pointed out. “I’m excited for you. I hope you do it and I think you can do it.”
One of the best teams in the country the last couple years, MSU absolutely has a chance to do it. In fact, they’ll be one of the favorites to pull off the feat once the NCAA Tournament field is selected and competition begins.
But, as head coach Ginger Brown-Lemm pointed out, any previous success is meaningless once the postseason begins.
“The rankings don’t mean anything now. It’s 54 holes of competition,” she said. “I’d put these girls up against anyone in the country.”
And they’ve gone up against people from all over the country already. Fairly often, they’ve beaten them, too. MSU’s program has undergone resurgence the last few years, led by Brown and seniors Ally McDonald and Rica Tse. It was those two who Prescott charged to be the example for their teammates and lead the charge as they push for those two words: National Championship.
If they win it, Prescott said, it would be more proof of what the entire athletic department has built the last five years.
“Expectations have changed around campus, around this whole university,” he said. “Everyone in this country knows who we are now.”
Said Brown, “As we change the culture of MSU’s women’s golf, we wanted people to know who we are based on the color of our shirt when we walk onto the course … It’s taken a couple years to change that. But we are now competitors and contenders for every event we’re in.”
While the attention will be centered on Starkville and Super Bulldog Weekend the next several days, the women’s golf team is one of four MSU teams who will be on the road this weekend, all playing in the SEC Championships as postseason play begins.
Men’s and women’s tennis and men’s golf are all beginning competition, each with hopes of advancing in the postseason.
In fact, men’s tennis – who seems to be the hottest team on campus lately – might have worked itself into a position where it could be hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament after a third place overall finish in the SEC’s regular season.
Under first year head coach Matt Roberts and with a roster full of young and new players, it took the Bulldogs a little while to get going. But once they hit their stride, they became nearly unbeatable.
Now No. 20 in the country, the 18-6 (9-3 SEC) squad is 6-1 over its last seven matches, all against SEC competition. However, it was a loss to Texas A&M before that streak began when things changed.
MSU lost, but it was a thriller at home against the then-No. 7 team the in the country, one of the SEC’s dominant programs, and players say it was then that they realized they can compete against the best teams and individuals the NCAA has to offer.
“You can’t have regrets, but you can learn from everything you go through with your team,” Roberts said. “We learned a lot that night. It gave us a lot of confidence going forward in how good we are as a team … We got more comfortable being uncomfortable.”
On Friday, the Bulldogs will play the winner of Florida-Kentucky in the SEC Tournament, and they’re hoping for another couple wins to enhance their resume. MSU has already submitted its bid to host in the NCAA Tourney.
Also in competition this weekend is the men’s golf team at the SEC Championships, a young group in a bit of a transition year. However, they’re playing their best at the right time as the new pieces have started coming together and consistency has improved down the stretch of the season, concluding in their annual home event at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, Miss.
“We knew there was going to be a learning curve,” assistant coach Noah Goldman said. “I wish we could sprinkle some dust and give them that experience, but that’s just not how it works. They’ve done it this year and figured it out.”
We didn’t get the chance to talk to the women’s tennis team, but at No. 42 in the country, MSU is having its best season in a decade, led by head coach Daryl Greenan. The 10 seed in the SEC Tournament, MSU will play seven-seed South Carolina this afternoon.
Dan Mullen, a millionaire football coach, and myself, a less-than-millionaire (hundredaire?) writer, don’t have a ton in common, but we do share at least a couple of the same interests – sports and food.
Mullen is a pizza snob, to the point that he tosses his own dough for homemade pies in his kitchen, and he’s had occasional daydreams about opening up an Italian restaurant in Starkville, though it seems he’s been a little busy coaching football.
He’s got 76,000 followers on Twitter, but he only follows about 300 people himself, mostly players and recruits, and of that small group, at least a few are dedicated exclusively to philly cheesesteak sandwiches. He once spent 15 minutes with local reporters explaining exactly how to make a good one at home, and exactly what type of roll one needs.
Me, I love many things in life. Books and TV, beaches and mountains, family and friends; but like Mullen, two of my biggest loves are sports and food. That’s the whole point of this weekly column, after all. It’s for those reasons that Super Bulldog Weekend is one the happiest times of the year for me – three days of watching sports and eating all kinds of edible items.
MSU’s head coach and I spend a lot of time around each other at games, practices, press conferences and various athletic events. But last year, we ran into each other unexpectedly on the morning before the football team’s spring game. I had a bag of biscuits and he had two kids, a dog and a Styrofoam cup full of some type of soft drink. We were both walking around the Cotton District Arts Festival, enjoying some sunshine and food in a fair-like setting before our day of work began.
Super Bulldog Weekend – all about sports and food. And people, too, I suppose.
The grills fire up first on Friday morning for the annual pig cooking competition and they’ll continue throughout the weekend in the Left Field Lounge. Restaurants around town will have their full staff on the clock around the clock to accommodate the tens of thousands of people coming to town, and my favorite part of SBW – the Cotton District Arts Festival – runs 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday. The Arts Festival is the city’s street market for a day, a Starkville Bazaar of arts, crafts, entertainment and, most importantly, food. Visit their website (here – http://www.starkvillearts.net/cotton-district-arts-festival.html ) for the full schedule of events, bands and vendors, but sticking to any kind of schedule out there almost ruins the fun.
My Saturday duties take me to football, baseball and softball by late morning every year, but getting out there at 8 a.m. is a nice way to beat the crowds, get the best selection and have neat stuff to look at while drinking coffee.
The best part, however, starts at 9 with Taste of Starkville, the cooking competition amongst local restaurants. About 15 businesses are competing, which means they’ll have trucks and stands setup for anyone (read: us) to come by and get something to eat. I don’t know why, but it seems like things taste better when they come on a paper plate and are eaten when on foot outside. There’s a freedom to walking around with food in your hands, not caring what kind of mess you make. And I’ve certainly yet to find anything that isn’t better deep-fried on a stick.
Harvey’s has some of the best fair-food options every year, as do The Veranda and Bin 612. Seeing food from Dave’s Dark Horse Tavern in the bright light is strange, but just as tasty, and I hear Mugshots is breaking out a veggie burger as festival organizers have asked participants to have a healthy option, though I personally throw all concerns about cholesterol and carbohydrates out the proverbial window in these situations.
That’s part of the fun, too, as it’s not just healthy dishes but all manner of inventions and off-the-menu items these places put together especially for the Arts Festival.
So, I’ll see you many of you at Davis Wade Stadium, Dudy Noble Field and the MSU Softball complex this weekend. The hungry ones, I’ll see you walking around the district Saturday.