Fitzgerald, Green Elected Team Captains For Moorhead’s First Season

As Nick Fitzgerald left the gameday locker room for the last time until September, he passed Joe Moorhead who was on his way back in. Minutes before, the head coach had called his senior quarterback to the front of the locker room where Fitzgerald was announced as one of Mississippi State’s two team captains for 2018 elected by their teammates.

Inside the locker room, Moorhead had spoken about Fitzgerald’s leadership and the importance of having strong captains if they’re going to win championships. Outside the locker room, Moorhead stopped his quarterback for a quick personal note.

“Congratulations,” Moorhead said. “That’s awesome. I was a senior captain quarterback. It’s a heck of a deal.”

And it’s a deal that neither Fitzgerald – the offensive captain – or senior linebacker Gerri Green – the defensive captain – take lightly.

“It’s a great, great honor,” Green said. “Seeing all the captains that came before me, big time guys on and off the field, to be able to follow in their footsteps, that means a great deal. I thank my teammates, especially all those guys that have been with me since my freshman year. Us fifth-year seniors going into our last season, it’s a big deal for us to make sure we close out our careers on a high note.”

“Honestly, a lot of people probably thought I shouldn’t even be here to start with,” Fitzgerald said. “To come up, earn a starting job, enter my senior year coming off an injury and still be able to earn enough respect from your teammates to be voted captain, that’s huge. I’m excited. It’s a lot of responsibility on and off the field. I’m ready to get to it.”

Astute listeners will notice that Green and Fitzgerald both made an important distinction in their roles as leaders: it must happen on and off the field. Moorhead himself said it several times when introducing Green and Fitzgerald as captains in the locker room, and it’s clear he’s put an emphasis in his program on character, behavior and performance away from football, giving honors each week not just to players who practice well, but players who do well in classes or with charitable services.

It applies, as well, to workouts, conditioning, film study and all the other parts of the game that take place outside the lines of the field. That, he noted, is why captains are so important. They are the driving force in those moments, and during a long offseason where coaches aren’t able to spend time on the field, it’s imperative that the players themselves make sure the work gets done.

“The best teams I’ve been around are player-driven teams, not coach-driven teams,” Moorhead said. “We elected our captains and we’re passing the team over to them.”

To hear Moorhead explain it, there is no surprise in Green and Fitzgerald being the elected captains, voted into the role by their teammates. The vote wasn’t even close, he told the team, and even confessed, “you know who it is,” before making the introductions. As fifth-year seniors, both of them, they’ve got long resumes of work and reputation to back up their new roles.

That Fitzgerald was elected as the senior quarterback is no shocker, and as he explains it, the same holds true for Green, one of the most respected players in the locker room regardless of position.

“He’s the perfect teammate, honestly,” Fitzgerald said. “Off the field he’s never had issues. On the field he plays his heart out. He’s always voted the hardest worker in the weight room. The best guy. He’s always a first one in, last one out kind of guy. He’s definitely the perfect captain for the defense.”

“He’s one of those guys that’s been with me the whole time,” Green said of Fitzgerald. “I’ve watched him grow. He’s grown as I’ve grown. Both of us came in as freshmen, and to see where we are now speaks highly of how much we’ve been through.”

Applause and cheers were loud and long for both as Green and Fitzgerald took turns stepping to the front of the locker room and addressing their teammates, promising to be the leaders they’re expected to be, to guide their team on the field and off. Now, with practice over and the offseason underway, it’s their time to take over.

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New Systems Installed, Moorhead Reviews Spring Football

We can delve into features on individual players, we can project depth charts based on what we see, and we can break down strengths and weaknesses of the roster all day and night. But with a new coaching staff, with an experienced team and with a new scheme on both sides of the ball, the biggest question around Mississippi State football this spring is a pretty basic one: how’s practice going?

After all, this is the first look at the Joe Moorhead Era, a sneak peek at the laying of the foundation, offering a preview of what’s to come not just this fall but for years to come. Naturally, the level of anticipation is high, and certainly, MSU fans hope for a good answer to the question of how exactly things are going out there now that the intros are over, the contracts are signed and real football things are happening.

Entering the final days of practice ahead of the Maroon-White Spring Game on Super Bulldog Weekend, Moorhead was asked just that.

“With a week to go,” a reporter asked Moorhead after Saturday afternoon’s practice, “are you pleased with how they’ve retained everything and where you are right now?”

Deep breath, the answer is coming.

“Very much so,” he began.

Deep exhale, and the explanation builds.

“I don’t want to sound like a Pollyanna and come in here every day and tell you it’s sunshine and rainbows,” Moorhead continued, “but they’re taking the information from the meeting room and going out and playing hard. We’re seeing the precision improve every practice. From that standpoint, there hasn’t been a day where you look at the film and say, ‘Man, we didn’t get better today.’ It hasn’t been by leaps and bounds, but we’ve been improving every practice.”

Nothing against “sunshine” or “rainbows,” but the key word in Moorhead’s explanation is “precision.” The base schemes are completely installed as of Saturday, though they’ll add more to them in fall camp and in the season. It’s for that reason that Moorhead says the challenge for his players at this point is more mental than physical.

Within literal minutes of his plane landing in Starkville for the first time, Moorhead greeted a handful of players and told them they would need to learn their ring sizes for the championships they were about to win. Having strength and size and endurance are all important factors in being a good football team. But to be a great team that wins said championships, Moorhead believes, one must have that all-important quality: precision. That, as you would imagine, is what MSU is working on now.

“We talk a lot about the effort we give, but football is a game of precision,” he said. “Right now, I like to say we’re in the right church but the wrong pew. We’re doing the right thing, but we’re not doing it with enough precision that we’re going to win the SEC. We’ve got a long way to go. We don’t need to be [now] where we’re going to be September 1. We’ve just got to improve every practice and keep stacking good days on top of each other.”

And that’s why these final days are about fundamentals and techniques. They are about not just doing the right things, but doing them the right way and knowing why they do them.

Senior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald offered a review similar to that of his coach, saying he’s both pleased with the progress and intent on improvement. With the offense fully installed, he knows where the responsibility now lies.

“It’s just on the rest of us to really master it,” he said. “It’s going well. We hear him talk every day that you’d be surprised this team is running these installs and these plays for the very first time. For the most part, our people are doing really well. We’re running fast, playing hard. I think it just has to do with everyone buying into it.

“We kind of know what to do,” Fitzgerald continued, “now we need to know why we do it and how to do it effectively. That’s the big thing. We all have to be in the playbooks.”

And the good news, Moorhead says, is that it’s an approach embraced by the whole of the team. As individuals improve, so do entire position units, entire sides of the ball and the entire team itself. After their last scrimmage before the spring game, Moorhead noted he was most pleased not with individual performances or dominating play by the defense or offense. Instead, he was thrilled to see a competitive back and forth battle between the two sides, an example of how practice has gone all spring.

“As the head coach, you want to see a good give and take throughout practice; offense making plays, defense making plays. I think we did that,” he said. “I think it’s a great battle. I think it’s a microcosm of what we see every day in practice. I tell our guys, if one side is constantly kicking the other side’s butt throughout the course of practice, you’re in for a long season. We want our practices to be like a 15-round heavyweight bout that goes to the card. That’s how it’s been, either by period or by day. Guys have been competing and getting after each other, but ultimately realizing it’s more about the team than it is about one side of the ball or the individual.”

If the competition continues well, Moorhead’s Bulldogs expect to be ready for their next string of heavyweight bouts when the 2018 season begins.

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Loss Meets History In National Title Match

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.

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Swagger And Skill Set – Schaefer Leads Bulldogs Back To Final Four

Vic Schaefer is a really quotable guy. Part of that is just sheer volume because he’s asked so many questions at press conferences, on radio shows, during television broadcasts and in the interviews following the many, many wins he’s racked up over the years at Mississippi State.

Part of that is also because he’s got such a natural cadence and creative candor to his answers once he gets going that those who don’t know him might mistake him for a Texas high school football coach straight off the set of Friday Night Lights. The accent helps with that one, of course.

I’ve either been present for or listening to just about every one of those interviews he’s had the last six years as the head coach of MSU women’s basketball, and I’ve recorded enough Vic Schaefer-isms that I could probably write a book if he were interested. But yesterday, the day before MSU was slated to start it’s second Final Four in a row, Schaefer casually dropped what might be my favorite of all his quotable quotes.

“Look,” he began, “it’s hard to have swagger if you don’t have a skill set.”

It felt like a hand-to-chest, mouth-agape, eyes-wide moment for any doubters, fakers or haters who have tried to stand in his way, an arrow of truth shot directly into the heart of the target.

The full quote itself came in response to a question about senior point guard Morgan William, who Schaefer was defending for some of the things that had been written about her since last year’s National Championship Game. Much of the press has been positive, of course, after she hit The Shot to beat UConn, but a surprising amount of negative words were written after about her lack of follow-up production, the amount of time she spent on the bench and a few other similar subjects that Schaefer found equally ridiculous.

While the quote – the final sentence in a lengthy answer – was about William specifically, it felt like it applied to Schaefer’s whole team, his entire program. That statement right there explained the confidence this team has. It explained why Victoria Vivians was on a raised stage in front of a packed room full of media from across the country and offered to sing a song for them while they waited on the Final Four press conference to begin. How else could someone be so loose before such a big moment?

That quote explained how MSU ran the table in the regular season, the first SEC team to do so in decades. It explained a 36-1 record, a No. 1 seed and a second-straight Final Four appearance. It explained a team that won games by an average of 26 points this season, scoring 82 points per game and holding opponents to a mere 56. It explained a team that has outscored opponents by a total of 90 points in four NCAA Tournament games so far.

It explained Vivians and William. It explains Teaira McCowan dominating the post, Blair Schaefer lighting up the scoreboard, Roshunda Johnson scoring and stopping from any part of the court.

These Bulldogs have swagger because they have a skill set, and it’s one that gets better when all their individual talents and drives are combined into one team.

“I’ve marveled at and been amazed by this group, this team, but when you really step back and look at the kids, these seniors in particular, you understand how we’ve gotten it done,” Schaefer said. “This year has been unfinished business. I think this team has tried to embrace that and done a great job with that. We have not run from the target on our back all year.”

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A few hours after that quote, Hail State Productions released its hype video for the Final Four, which you can watch at the top of this page. Below is the full script from the video, should you be interested in reading such a thing.

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This didn’t start with our first game of the year. It didn’t start with the first practice of the offseason. It didn’t even start when we had to watch the confetti fall for someone else in Dallas, though we certainly haven’t forgotten that feeling.

No. The first steps on this journey were taken six years ago, when a new era of Bulldog basketball was born. It started when our new leader was introduced, when Coach – OUR coach – spoke to us in the desert and vowed that he would take us to the promised land, that together we would see his vision come to life.

In the time since, we’ve gone from crowds of hundreds to winning games in the hundreds. Setting records by the hundreds, and packing out every arena from Starkville to the four corners of the country by the thousands.

We have become a family of winners and of champions, and we have done it by sacrifice. By time. Work. Resiliency. And with patience this new era has dawned – the age of effort, the tenure of tenacity, the halcyon days of hustle and heart and the period of punishment for those who once who pushed us around.

We are Mississippi State and we have made. Our. Name. known.

We’ve worked more than just months for this. We have worked for YEARS to reach this moment. And what we started then, we aim to finish now.

You can love us or hate us, but best believe you will you know us. We will out-work you, out-smart you, and in the deepest reaches of our ever-beating hearts, we will out-believe you.

Immovable defense, unstoppable offense. No matter what poison you pick, we’ll make you pay. We scrape and claw. We dive. We hustle. Up by 30 or down by 10, we don’t quit. We don’t give up. We. don’t. stop.

No challenge is too great, no summit too high. We’re used to the target on our back, and any foe who arises to strike it will have to go through the thousands of fans behind us to reach it.

Our strength does not lie in jerseys or names, honors or awards.

We are family strong and we fear no one. We don’t care about All-American, All-Conference or even All-State. We’re all Bulldog, and that’s all that matters. We are blue-collared, red-blooded and wrapped in maroon and white.

History is written by the winners, and this story has yet to reach its final page.

Praise the Lord and go Dawgs, this our moment! THIS … is our … time.

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Bulldogs Chasing History In NIT Semifinal At The Garden

Nearly two years before Mississippi State’s men’s basketball team advanced to the NIT Final Four, the then-young group of men who barely knew each other walked the streets of Rome the day before they were to play in their first game together, a preseason international exhibition. MSU was coming off consecutive losing seasons, and the nucleus of sophomores and newly-signed freshmen were supposed to be the crew that would bring Bulldog Basketball back.

The journey they started then hasn’t reached its final step, and more pieces have been added along the way, but the 20 months that have passed since then have taken this team from the greatest city of the ancient world in Rome, to the greatest city of modern day in New York City. It was the legends of the past who entertained the masses in the Coliseum, and it is the greats of today who put on sport’s greatest exhibitions in Madison Square Garden.

This team’s story has yet to come full circle, but the production and potential of the present day have begun to catch up to the program’s storied past. That these Bulldogs – win or lose – will finish their season in MSG, in New York, on the most famous stage basketball has to offer, is a fitting finale for a program on the precipice of stardom.

“The greatest players of the history of the game all have one thing in common: every one of them played in Madison Square Garden,” MSU head coach Ben Howland said. “To be able to say, ‘I played in The Garden’ is a really special thing.”

And he’s right. All the legends, all the greats, all the heroes of basketball have stepped onto the court in The Garden.

Quinndary Weatherspoon’s favorite player, LeBron James, twice scored over 50 points at MSG.

Xavian Stapleton has pulled for Kobe Bryant since he was a kid, the Lakers star who famously racked up 61 points at Madison Square Garden in February of 2009.

In fitting form, Allen Iverson – favorite player of point guard Lamar Peters – had one of his best games in The Garden not as an NBA player, but in college when he scored 23 points for Georgetown to help the Hoyas win the NIT semi-final 1995.

That State’s players will get to add themselves to that list is no meaningless experience.

“Country boy to The Garden – it feels like I’m in the movies,” forward Abdul Ado said.

Said guard Nick Weatherspoon, “it’s pretty special.”

“I’m very excited,” forward Aric Holman said. “This is something I can tell my nieces and nephews about, or my kids one day.”

As it turns out, one person with the team in New York is already on the list of legends to play at Madison Square Garden, and he’s on it multiple times over. When MSU loaded the bus in Starkville to head for the airport, players walking back to their seats likely didn’t look twice at the gray-haired gentleman and his wife sitting near the front of the bus, but as they slid by him, they were quite literally having brushes with greatness.

Bailey Howell is a legend, a Hall of Famer, and perhaps the best player ever to wear the maroon and white jersey, and that’s why he’s making yet another visit to The Garden, this time as a spectator.

“Bailey came by to congratulate us [after beating Louisville in the quarterfinal],” Howland said, “and I was like, ‘you’ve got to come with us.’ It’s just wonderful for us to have him here. He’s such a classy person that really embodies everything Mississippi State is about. He was an unbelievable player when you think about what he accomplished at Mississippi State and in the NBA.

“I was talking wit him last night at our dinner,” Howland continued. “He had 32 rebounds twice in different NBA games, one of them against Wilt Chamberlain. He had 34 once in a college game. He averaged 17 rebounds a game for three years in college. Just incredible what he was able to do.”

Howell had a career so long and so successful that he actually played in the current Madison Square Garden and the old Madison Square Garden.

Riding the bus, traveling with the team and watching from the stands in MSG, Howell is a living symbol from the past of not only what this program has done before, but what more it can do in the future. These players, this season and this program are far from satisfied, but if history repeats itself, then the future is growing brighter by the day.

“Next year and in the years to come,” NIT commentator Fran Frischilla began as he introduced Ben Howland, “you are going to hear about the Mississippi State Bulldogs.”

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Postseason Return Marks Program’s Return For Howland, MSU

Aric Holman and Quinndary Weatherspoon are the old guys on this team. It happened quickly, but now as juniors, they represent the first people to sign on with Ben Howland, believe in what he was doing and commit themselves to seeing his vision become a reality.

Three years ago, they were told they could help return Mississippi State basketball to the spotlight, and when they arrived on campus, they stated that as their goal. It took all of those three years to start seeing the fruits of their labor, but Wednesday night in The Hump – even if it wasn’t the exact tournament they were hoping for – was a return to the postseason for a once-proud program that seems to have found its pride once again.

When Mississippi State hosted Nebraska in the NIT, it was the first postseason game for MSU since Holman and Weatherspoon were in the ninth grade. When the Bulldogs beat the Cornhuskers, it was the first postseason win since they were in middle school. Suffice to say, it’s been a while, and this appearance was both an exhale of relief that the former glory is beginning to return and an inhalation of excitement at what the future holds for a team without a single scholarship senior on the roster.

“It means a lot, knowing that we haven’t been in the postseason in I don’t know how long,” Weatherspoon said. “It feels great to be in the postseason. We didn’t get it done my first two years here. This means we’re moving forward. Hopefully we can keep building and building.”

That’s the idea, according to Howland. This is the third time he’s been in the NIT, having done it once each in his head coaching stops at Northern Arizona and Pittsburgh. Now, just as then, he of course wishes his team could’ve won just another game or two and found its way to the NCAA Tournament. But for a program that appears to be on its way back up, and with a roster full of young talent, Howland knows how meaningful these do-or-die postseason experiences can be.

“It’s definitely helping us now,” he said. “To have 23 wins now, with an opportunity to get 24 and keep advancing in the postseason, it’s huge. Guys are getting a taste of what it’s like to play beyond the SEC Tournament. We’re very disappointed that the three didn’t go down with four seconds to go against Tennessee and give us a chance to keep advancing and have a chance to be in the NCAA Tournament. But this is definitely a positive for our team, our program.”

Much of what it means to the program comes in the opportunity to give fans something to cheer for, something to buy into. That’s why Howland has spent many of his free nights visiting fraternities and sororities on campus, giving away cheese fries in the Cotton District or filming videos asking for support. He’s known they were building toward something special, and he wanted to bring the fans back into the fold.

The team knows that MSU is a fanbase that has been patiently – and sometimes impatiently – waiting for something to cheer for, something to be proud of. There were hints and sparks of such a thing the last couple years, and finally, as so-often happens for Howland, year three launched a more serious movement and a collection of victories and performances that had people excited again, if not cautiously so. And that’s not to say there weren’t lows, but for what felt like the first time in a while, there were more than enough highs to support continuous optimism.

Lamar Peters, the sophomore point guard who racked up 14 assists in Wednesday’s game, knows how badly so many thousands of people have been waiting for something like this.

“It was a very big win,” he said. “It’s always a big deal to advance to the postseason. It’s been a long time since it’s happened in Starkville so we just wanted to come out and not be flat and get the victory and have the Starkville community be happy for something in men’s basketball.”

To be sure, this is not a settling point in the short or long-term senses. MSU isn’t happy enough to have won a single postseason game and call it quits for the this year. Nor do they have the desire to be in the NIT again any time soon. The NCAA Tournament is the goal moving forward, and winning games there will be the new yearly standard. But, like anything, there are steps to be taken, and this postseason is a big one.

“Every year, we’re progressing and becoming a better program and better team and just improving every moment we can. It’s headed in the right direction,” Holman said. “We’ve improved a lot [since] Q and I first got here. Now, guys are buying in and wanting to be a part of something great instead of just wanting to be an average team.”

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Senior Track Star Boss Jumping Her Way Into Record Books

At a tire and auto-repair shop in a small town in Florida, there is a room with glass walls lined practically from top-to-bottom and side-to-side with what amounts to a shrine for the 2018 women’s high jump SEC Champion. Amber Boss, along with her husband and owner of the shop Thomas Boss, has plastered the walls to celebrate the achievements of their oldest daughter, Logan Boss, a senior high-jumper at Mississippi State.

There are newspaper clippings from high school, stories printed off the internet, pictures from any source imaginable and even team posters from MSU’s track and field team covering all the available space in the room. Thomas and Amber, needless to say, are quite proud of their daughter, and that’s why they will be in College Station this weekend, taking a mini-vacation from Florida to journey out west.

After winning the SEC indoor high jump title two weeks ago, Logan Boss is after the biggest prize the NCAA has to offer: a National Championship. Appropriately, it will be at the same facility housed by Texas A&M where Boss won the SEC Championship last month and where she placed third at Nationals last year.

“I’m really excited to be back at Texas A&M because I jump well there. It works with me,” she said. “SECs were kind of the first step. The ultimate goal is a National Championship.”

The way Boss has been jumping lately, she may reach her goal this weekend. Despite winning the SEC Title with a meet record of 1.91 meters in the high jump, it wasn’t even her best jump of the season. That came earlier in the year when she set a school record with a jump of 1.92 meters, or six feet and three-and-a-half inches. That 1.92 gave her the third-best indoor jump of all time in the Southeastern Conference.

And she nearly beat it again two weeks ago, coming millimeters away from setting the SEC record.

As recorded in MSU’s release on the attempt: “Boss attempted to jump 1.94m, the mark needed to enter international competition and set an SEC record, but she came up short. It appeared she had cleared on her second try, but the bar wobbled on its pedestals before eventually falling.”

Despite the high-level of her performance at this point in the year and the clear confidence she’s competing with, Boss actually never thought such a thing was even possible. Before each season, she meets with MSU jumps coach Steve Thomas and he sets out a plan for what height she will jump that year.

“My coach has told me how good I would be every year,” she said. “We set marks every year, and when we set those marks, I think he’s nuts. I just think there’s no way I can jump that high. Then I end up jumping that high. I’m like, I don’t know how you knew that or how you did that, but I did it.”

The way Thomas knew, it turned out, was pretty easy. He just watched Boss work.

“One of the things that we always think about in training jumpers is, how strong can we get an athlete?” he explained. “As her strength levels go up, we know her jumping ability is going to go up.”

So when Thomas found out that Boss was leg pressing 800 pounds in the weight room this offseason, he knew good things were coming.

Of course, the conclusion of the indoor season isn’t the end for Boss. She still has another outdoor season left, and even after she finishes her MSU career, there is plenty more to be done.

If Boss is able to hit the 1.94-meter mark she came so close to jumping in the SEC Championships, she will automatically qualify for international competition. Even from that point, there would still be more cuts to be made, but Boss is well on her way to turning a dream into a surreal reality. She wants to play for Team USA, and the fact that such a sentence can realistically come out of her mouth remains a crazy sensation for the senior from O’Brien, Florida.

“It’s just weird for me to feel that close,” she said. “I know what I’m doing is awesome and incredible for me, but to put it into perspective compared to everyone else, I’m jumping with the pros and that just kind of blows my mind.”

However, jumping isn’t all that’s on Boss’s mind lately. In an accomplishment that makes her just as proud as any, she graduates with her degree in Kinesiology this May. After that, she’s already been accepted into MSU’s MBA program where she will continue her education.

Here in the middle of 2018, there is a lot going on for Logan Boss.

“And it is crazy,” she said. “I’m about to graduate college and that’s going to be the most incredible accomplishment for me. I just won SECs, but I think graduating is going to be in the same realm of how proud I am of myself and how much I feel like I’ve accomplished.”

And if she has her way, there are plenty of accomplishments left to come.

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Behind The Designing Of The New Dude

In June of 2013, Michael Boerner was watching college baseball on his iPad while at a conference in San Diego. His alma mater, Mississippi State, was unexpectedly one of the hottest teams in the country, and the Bulldogs were cruising through the postseason, already deep into a College World Series run.

Boerner, an architect for Wier, Boerner, Allin in Jackson, Mississippi, was due to fly back home as soon as the conference ended. But when his iPad showed his team win yet another game and clinch an appearance in the Championship Series – the first time MSU had ever played for a National Championship in any sport – Boerner called his associates at the firm to make a change of plans.

Meet me in Omaha.

So with a bag packed for southern California, Boerner made way for northern Nebraska to watch his Bulldogs play for the Championship.

Nearly five years later, Boerner was in Jackson preparing for a trip to Starkville where he was scheduled to make a presentation about the new MSU Baseball stadium his firm had designed, a speaking engagement at the First Pitch Banquet to kick off the 2018 baseball season. Shortly before leaving, Boerner dug out the old suitcase he had taken to San Diego and that had been redirected to Omaha. When he opened it up, something he had apparently never unpacked fell out of one of the pockets.

On one side of the bar coaster was the logo for “Mr. Toad,” an Irish pub in Omaha, and on the back was something he had completely forgotten: one of the first-ever sketches of the new Dudy Noble, the soon-to-be-open stadium about which he was on his way to speak.

At the time of the World Series in 2013, the firm had already been approached about making plans for the future of MSU’s baseball stadium, but only recently had discussions begun to change from a renovation of the current one to the construction of a brand new stadium. The kindling for creative flame had just been placed, and when the three arrived in Omaha, the sparks flew and lit the fire.

On their first full day in town, the trio took a tour of TD Ameritrade Park, the new and highly-praised home of the College World Series. That night, the group settled in for dinner at Mr. Toads. Inspired by what they had seen, they quickly started bouncing around ideas, their collective creativity snowballing as they threw out suggestions, discussed their merits and built upon the visions they all had popping into their imaginations.

“A few beers at Mr. Toad’s helped us to be a little more free with our thoughts,” Boerner now says with a laugh.

Soon enough, the waters of discussion rose so high that they could no longer be contained in words spoken aloud. Without a notebook handy, Boerner searched around for some kind of disposable surface to sketch out their plans. When he spotted an unused paper coaster on the table, he flipped it over, grabbed a pen and got to work.

Certainly, there existed more professional renderings and drawings back at the office in Jackson, but that night was when what the New Dude would eventually become was born. There in Omaha was the first time the right field plaza was discussed, the visually-arresting grand entrance to the outfield. That was when they brought up the potential to take a portion of the land behind the left field wall and erect loft apartments, one of the most unique and ambitious touches to a college baseball stadium anywhere.

Taking inspiration from another of their favorite features from TD Ameritrade Park, the group made plans for what Boerner calls the “parade route” that runs the entire circumference of the stadium, an open concourse circling out from home, all through the outfield and back into the grandstands. There isn’t place to stand where you can’t see the game, from the home entrance to the berms and into the new Left Field Lounge.

“Think Neshoba County fair cabins meets Bourbon Street,” he says now.

All of it sketched onto a coaster that Boerner slipped into his back pocket without a second thought at the end of one unexpected night in late June of 2013.

“It was all part of the magical experience of being in Omaha for the World Series,” he says. “To this day, I still have to pinch myself when I walk around the stadium.”

The amount of people involved in making the New Dude a reality is borderline staggering, from athletic directors, contractors and construction workers, to designers Wier, Boerner, Allin and advisors Populous and even famed baseball architect and MSU alum Janet Marie-Smith, who offered her expert input.

The full team of designers, builders, creators and thinkers has worked for over half of a decade – a work now nearing completion – to create the premier venue in college baseball, a home deserving of the most dedicated fanbase in the sport.

And it all came from a coaster at Mr. Toad’s.

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Confetti Falls: Bulldogs Claim First SEC Championship

Three times last year, the Bulldogs missed their moment. The streamers in place were never loosed after the team lost at home to end the regular season not with a championship but with embarrassment at their performance in front of such a large crowd. A week later, they left the floor as the tournament trophy was wheeled out past them and taken to the rowdy celebration at midcourt. A month after that, they trudged through confetti one last time, walking away from the winner’s circle and off to the locker room while someone else’s national title celebration rang through the walls.

On Sunday, those moments found redemption as the cameras rolled, as the Bulldogs assembled at midcourt, as the trophy was passed around and as, finally, the cheers echoing through the stands were for them and the confetti falling to the court was theirs and theirs alone.

The sign being passed around announced the accomplishment – Mississippi State Women’s Basketball: 2018 SEC Champions.

“Finally, our kids aren’t in the locker room and we’re listening to somebody scream,” head coach Vic Schaefer said Sunday night, nearly two hours after the celebration began. “It’s us.”

Told that she had been spotted playing in maroon and white confetti like a kid seeing snow for the first time, senior guard Victoria Vivians expressed a similar sentiment of relish and redemption.

“It’s always thrown in our face and it’s never ours,” she said. “It was finally ours.”

In the middle of that celebration, Schaefer addressed the 9,933 MSU fans in Humphrey Coliseum to talk about what they had done together.

“I believed and I dreamed of this day with you here to share in this moment,” he told the crowd. “This is what makes Mississippi State University so very special.”

And as much as Mississippi State is special to him, it was a special moment for Mississippi State, too. In the most literal sense, MSU’s win in a basketball game made history. It created history. It’s what Schaefer’s team has been doing for the better part of two years now, and longer than that on some occasions.

Sunday wasn’t just the first SEC Championship for the women’s basketball program; it was the first conference championship by any women’s team in the 140 years since MSU was founded. Somewhere along the way, this team started making history that was bigger than itself, bigger than one group of players.

Two weeks ago, on a Monday night, State beat South Carolina by double digits in front of the biggest crowd in the history of Humphrey Coliseum. Not the biggest crowd for women’s basketball. It was the biggest crowd for any basketball, for any event, for any reason people have had to gather inside those brick walls.

The Hump has been host to No. 1 teams, to defending national champs and eventual national champs. Hall of famers and No. 1 picks have played in the building as part of both home and visiting teams.

It even had Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner and Garth Brooks, all in their prime.

Twice, The Hump been the home court of Final Four squads.

But no one drew a bigger crowd than this team. With good reason, it turns out. Schaefer knows how special this particular group is.

“The best team I’ve coached in 33 years,” he said with no hint of exaggeration or surprise.

Yes, even better than the team that played for a National Championship less than a year ago, the team that pulled off the biggest upset in the history of basketball. This group is better than that, Schaefer says.

But don’t take his word for it. Ask his longtime friend and mentor, Texas A&M coach Gary Blair, the man on the other end of the confetti celebration on Sunday.

“Mississippi State is a well-rounded team,” he said following the 76-55 loss Sunday night. “They are better than they were last year because they’re a better offensive team. That’s the difference.”

That fact, that assertion that MSU is better offensively, can’t be denied. Under a coach known for his defensive acumen and intensity, it’s offense that has paved the way for Schaefer’s team. Five times this season, the Bulldogs have cracked 100 points. 12 times, they’ve scored 90 or more.

In early February, playing their fourth game in 11 days, playing their third road game in as many days, coming off back-to-back victories over two of the best teams in the conference and starting that whole run with a road game at rival Ole Miss, travel-weary MSU went down to Florida and won 98-50.

The Bulldogs can score.

And what’s more, they can keep other teams from doing the same. For much of the non-conference schedule and well into the SEC slate, Schaefer bemoaned the defensive struggles of his team. They weren’t playing defense the way he expected his teams to play it. Yeah, he said, they were winning games with their offense, but he repeated time and again that there would be days when that wasn’t enough. Shots won’t always fall, but defense always shows up. And finally, his did.

On January 21, MSU played at Tennessee and won 71-52. Since that day, no one has scored more than 55 on the Bulldogs. MSU has finished with scores of their own as high as 98 and as low as 57, and they’ve won every time.

With fireworks on offense and brick walls on defense, Mississippi State isn’t the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object. The Bulldogs are the unstoppable force and the immovable object.

28-0, SEC Champions.

“These kids have answered the bell every single night,” Schaefer said as he recounted the accomplishments of his team.

But as the celebration wound down inside Humphrey Coliseum, the head coach added one important caveat.

“We’re not done.”

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Behind The Dominant Play Of #HailStateHoops

At 24-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country, Mississippi State is the only Southeastern Conference team in the Top 10 nationally for scoring offense, and it is the only SEC team in the full Top 25 of scoring defense in all of women’s basketball. In fact, you have to drop all the way down through the 30s before you find another team in the conference on that list.

Perhaps that isn’t surprising, though. After all, Mississippi State has the only defense in the SEC that doesn’t have to play Mississippi State’s offense. At least not in a game, anyway.

MSU’s identity under head coach Vic Schaefer has been defense, the specialty and area of focus for the man tabbed “The Minister of Defense” when he was hired almost five years ago. But as the defending National Finalists are dominating their regular season schedule, they’re not just doing with their usual suffocating defense – this team has turned into a juggernaut on the offensive end of the floor. At 83.1 points per game, the Bulldogs are far and away the best in the conference, and they’re proving themselves yet again to be among the best in the country.

Much of that success, of course, comes from a pair of players that everyone knows – Victoria Vivians and Teaira McCowan. They’re renowned for good reason, both of them in the Top 5 in the SEC in points per game with Vivians averaging 19.6 and McCowan at 19.3.

In many games, those two alone are practically enough to beat someone. But in one of the toughest conferences in the country, two players can’t always do it on their own, and that’s why Schaefer’s team is streaking through the regular season. He’s got more than just those two, and no one to date has figured out what to do about it.

Just for starters, if an opponent double-teams McCowan in the post, Vivians is sure to go off. But say someone manages to limit both of those stars, then it’s time for any number of Schaefer’s weapons to be put into action.

While Vivians and McCowan get the headlines, the Bulldogs have a pair of guards among the deadliest shooters in the conference. Senior Blair Schaefer is shooting 42% from three-point range, while the versatile junior Roshunda Johnson is just behind her, drilling threes at a 39% clip.

“That in and of itself allows Teaira not to be double-teamed,” Schaefer said. “When Teaira is doubled, we can play through her and she finds these two out on the perimeter.”

McCowan, by the way, is completely fine with that. Against South Carolina Monday, she was perfectly pleased to haul in a game-high 20 rebounds while she let her teammates do the bulk of the scoring. That game serves as a perfect example of what makes MSU so hard to defend.

In the first half against the Gamecocks, Vivians was playing beyond even her high standards, and by halftime, she had scored a full 20 points. At that point, Blair Schaefer only had two points. USC, naturally, changed their game plan to try and slow down Vivians. She only had four points in the game’s final two quarters, but with so much attention diverted to guarding Vivians and McCowan, Schaefer went off. By the final minute of the fourth quarter, she had 14 points and MSU had the victory sealed up.

And then of course – how easily one forgets – there’s Morgan William, the senior point guard who last year hit one of the biggest shots in the history of basketball at any level and put on one of the greatest postseason performances that women’s college basketball has seen. Ignore her at your own peril.

“Arkansas didn’t guard Mo,” Schaefer recalled. “She went 8-for-11 in the first half.”

And MSU won by 40 as William totaled 18 points that night.

All of this fails to even mention the stellar play of State’s role players, guards and forwards alike coming off the bench to play meaningful minutes, to offer flexibility in size and skillset. As MSU navigated an eight-day stretch that started with a rivalry game on the road at Ole Miss, continued with a road game against No. 15 Missouri and finished days later with No. 7 USC at home, it was thanks to players like Jazzmun Holmes, the reserve point guard who racked up eight assists in 22 minutes against the Gamecocks, and Chloe Bibby, the freshman forward who stepped into the biggest game of the year and played with as much ease and confidence as if it were just a pick-up game with friends. And the list doesn’t even stop there.

In most post-game press conferences, the head coach is joined at the podium by one or two players. Sometimes coaches even do it alone. On Monday night, Schaefer sat in the middle of five of his players, enough to fill out a full starting lineup. That visual served as a perfect example of what has made his team just so difficult to stop.

“It’s hard to pick who you’re not going to guard,” Schaefer admitted. “Just picking your poison, it’s really hard. I’d hate to try to have to figure out who to not guard on this team, because you’ve got some kids that can really do some things, and they’re not just one-dimensional.”

“It really gives us flexibility to do some things and get some mismatches offensively,” he said. “I like our flexibility. I like our ability to change our lineup. It really adds a dimension to our team that we haven’t had. We’re a little bit different and harder to defend sometimes.”

Perhaps the important part of it all is that those pieces all work so well together. They’ve put in the work and the hours. They’ve had the experiences and battles. Through it all, they’ve grown closer, grown to know each other, and grown into a set of pieces that operate as one unstoppable force.

“I’m proud of the chemistry this team has,” Schaefer said after his most recent record-breaking win. “I just think our whole team has that, and that’s why we’re where we are today. I think they played for each other today.”

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