That one hurt.
It didn’t sting. It doesn’t ache.
It hurts, all the way down.
This was supposed to be the time it finally happened. This was the team of destiny, the team of fate. This was the night Mississippi State was going to win its first National Championship. This was supposed to be MSU’s history, MSU’s moment in the sun on top of the college basketball world.
For years, it’s felt like the water was rising and the pressure was building – eventually, the dam would burst and after over a century of drought, Mississippi State would win its first ever National Title in any team sport, the crowning achievement in the school’s long history.
This felt like the year, the moment, that the last drop would fall, the dam would crumble and history would flow forth in wave upon wave.
For more than 130 years, MSU never even played for a National Championship, let alone won one. Now, in the last five years, the school has three appearances in the final game of the season. The water is rising. The floodgates are ready to fall, and there’s a sense that, when they do, the victories will erupt, starting with a drop, then a trickle, then waves of wins crashing into a once-barren valley.
There’s nothing wrong with being part of the buildup. Every drop that falls hopes it will be the one to break through wall, but even so, every drop counts. Every win counts. Every practice in the gym, every session in the weight room, every hour in the film room and every day spent recovering in the training room – they all count.
By any standard, Mississippi State women’s basketball just completed the greatest season in school history for all sports. It’s not just that they played for a National Championship, like only two teams before them had. It’s that they won the SEC. It’s that they ran the conference gauntlet and secured the first undefeated regular season in the SEC in decades.
It sounds vague and almost dispassionate to merely say that records were set, but it would take pages and pages, hours and hours to list all the records recorded by this team, this program, this coach. Wins, rebounds, points, double-doubles; the list goes on and on. The honors, too, fill a seemingly bottomless bucket of praise. All-Conference, All-American – heck, this is the team that had a Hall of Famer on its active roster.
And none of that gives any credit to or properly describes the amount of personality this team has or the Moments, capital M, it has provided.
Whether its Teaira blocking the shots of her opponents or photo-bombing the interviews of her teammates, it was always a Very Tea Moment.
Victoria Vivians, the queen of all courts, is one of the best scorers basketball has ever seen, and she’s also one of the most graceful Homecoming Queens the student body has ever elected.
And there’s Mo, Itty Bitty, Morgan William, the smallest Bulldog who hit the biggest shot. The quietest voice with the loudest performances.
There’s Ro and Blair, Jordan and Jazz, on and on – an entire roster full of loved people, memories and Moments.
And where would it all be without Vic Schaefer? Two-thirds of the National Championship appearances in Mississippi State history are under his guidance. Forget Coach of the Year – he’s made a case for Coach of All-Time at MSU.
He made a promise when he arrived in Starkville. He laid out the standard he held for himself and his program, and in the six years since, he’s brought his vision to life, whether or not anyone outside of his locker room thought it could be done.
But these recent years have proved just that – it can be done. Not only that, but it can be done in a proper fashion. Mississippi State can win a championship in a way that reflects its values, its fans, its culture.
There are some who prefer not to use the nickname ‘The People’s University,’ but at a certain level, that’s what MSU is. More specifically, that’s what Schaefer’s program is and what it represents. It represents the people not just because of the name on the jersey, but because of the way it acts and carries itself.
There is no program in the country where postgame interviews run as late as at MSU, and that’s not just because Schaefer is so verbose and forthcoming with the media. It’s because he and his players go not to the locker room after a game, but straight to the stands to meet their fans.
The currency of MSU women’s basketball is handshakes, high fives, hugs and selfies. The fans are there, win or lose. And so are the Bulldogs they’re there to see.
Schaefer has said it himself many times over, but people don’t cheer for this team just because they win games. They cheer for this team because of the way they play, because of the way they act, because of they way they speak, and because of the way they carry themselves on and off the court.
This team wasn’t the one that broke the dam. They weren’t the Bulldogs to finally break through. What they were, however, and what they still are, is incredibly special. This team, and in particular this class of seniors, can now make their claim as the greatest to ever wear the Maroon and White.
When the last drop falls, this team will know it helped show the way.