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<img src="http://www.genespage.com/images/01columnists/gswindoll.jpg" align="left" width="120" height="161"> [Premium Article] MSU Athletics: The Year in Review.

MSU athletics for the sports season 2002-2003 has come and gone. It was a year of highest highs and the lowest lows. MSU football, with expectations that the team would be better, disappointed the Bulldog faithful for the second year in a row. The men's basketball team once again had a great regular season but lost a heartbreaker in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to a better than expected Butler team. The baseball team caused much more excitement than expected but came up a couple of games short of hosting a Super Regional. The women's basketball team had an outstanding regular season but lost in the NCAA tournament. The men's track team continued to show improvement, although injuries hurt their chances of winning that much coveted national championship. The women's track team won an individual national title, the second title in MSU women's history. Men's tennis, due to injuries, had an off year. Softball, under a new coach, has its ups and downs, but continued to show improvement. Soccer, under its dynamic young coach, had a losing season that was not expected but turned it around by showing dramatic improvement in the spring. Women's tennis and volleyball continued to work toward their goals of being competitive in the tough SEC. The men's golf team continued to work hard but show very little progress. The women's golf team continued to improve and should be even better this coming season.


After a 3-8 season in 2001, the football team suffered through a 3-9 season. What made it worse was the team had an 0-8 record in SEC play, the first time since 1988 that MSU football has not won an SEC game.

Coach Sherrill, knowing something had to be done, fired five of his assistant coaches, including the two coordinators, Joe Lee Dunn and Sparky Woods. Despite the two losing seasons and an NCAA investigations hanging over MSU's head, Coach Sherrill brought in what appears to be five outstanding coaches, OC Morris Watts, DC Ron Cooper, DL John Blake, OL Steve Campbell and WR Guy Mitchell.

Coach Sherrill, understanding that discipline needed to be put back into the program signed these very coaches because they are all strong disciplinarians. Plus, they all appear to have reputations as not only winners, but good recruiters. And they proved that with last year's recruiting class.

Along with the coaches that kept their jobs, Glenn Davis, Jim Tompkins, Terry Lewis and Curley Hallman, the new coaches went out and signed MSU's second consecutive outstanding recruiting year, signing two Parade All-Americans, OL Donovan Davis and DB Quinton Culberson as well as several other players that were considered some of the best in the south.

Add that class to last year's true freshman class and MSU now has 6 Parade All-Americans on the roster, the first time in the history of MSU football that has happened. Add those two classes in with the other quality players on the team and you start seeing the light at the end of this two-year dark tunnel that MSU has suffered through.

Before you get too excited, be prepared, because there's probably one more year of frustration ahead, but at least the ingredients are there for MSU's return to upper echelons of the SEC.

Men's Basketball

Not since the year of MSU's only Final Four appearence has expectations been so high for MSU's men's basketball team. After threatening to go pro, super Mario Austin decided to return for his junior season. Other starters returning included Derrick Zimmerman and Michal Ignerski. Replacing the departed Michael Gholar and Marckell Patterson were Ontario Harper and Timmy Bowers. Plus, you had several other players with experience returning. Everything seemed to be in place for a SEC Championship run.

MSU suffered a bump in the road when the NCAA decided to investigate Austin's early high school academics. Because of that, MSU held Austin out for several pre-SEC games. MSU's players, seemingly in shock, last their first game to a lessor foe, but gained their composure and rattled off five straight victories until Austin's return.

Austin, in dramatic fashioned, showed a television audience that he was ready for prime time, scored 28 points and hauled down 9 rebounds in a 71-61 victory over the 13th ranked Xavier in Madison Square Garden.

Fourteen days later, Austin, scoring 18 points, led the 16th ranked Bulldogs to a 54-45 upset of the 5th ranked Oklahoma Sooners in the Sugar Bowl Classic.

Expectations were at a frenzy among Bulldog fans.

After winning their next two games, SEC play started. MSU lost their first three games, one at home against Florida and two on the road against LSU and Alabama. MSU fans were wondering what happened.

The team quickly got the fans back on board by winning 8 of the next 10 SEC games.

The team faded a little at the end of the regular season, losing two straight, but did what had to be done the last game of the season and defeated Auburn for the SEC West Championship.

Going into the SEC Tournament, MSU fans weren't sure what to expect. The team won the fans back with two wins over Ole Miss and LSU. Playing for the SEC Tournament Championship for the second straight year, this time against the Kentucky Wildcats, MSU played well before losing 64-57.

After playing well against Kentucky, expectations were once again high going into the NCAA Tournament. Plus, MSU fans thought playing a little known team like Butler would be a cakewalk to the Sweet 16. Butler proved everybody wrong by handing the MSU basketball team and its fans a devastating 47-46 loss. MSU players, coaches and fans were numb after the loss.

Then, after the conclusion of the season, Austin signed with an agent and declared for the NBA draft.

To add insult to injury, MSU's highly touted recruiting class has taken more than its share of blows with the academic loss of Jackie Butler and the decision of Travis Outlaw to declare for the NBA draft.

MSU now must fill holes created by not only the loss of seniors Zimmerman and Ignerski but Austin and Butler and Outlaw. The positives are the return of starters Bowers and Harper and the experience that Winsome Frazier, Branden Vincent, Marcus Campbell received. It will be a rough ride next year unless these players stand out, but the future is bright due to the signing of Gary Ervin and the availability of Iowa State transfer Shane Power. Plus, MSU has already gotten a head start in recruiting with the commitments of two of the nation's best players in PG Charlie White and F Charles Rhodes.


MSU baseball, in the second year of Coach Polk's second tenure at MSU, was a question mark to most MSU fans. After barely securing a spot in the SEC Tournament the year before and failing to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament, the MSU fans were not sure what to expect from this year's squad.

The Diamond Dawgs quickly won the hearts and the cheers of the MSU fans with a surprising 23-3-1 start, one of the best in school history. Included in that record was an 8-1 SEC start. MSU fans, me included, were talking about the tremendous potential of the team.

The problem was we failed to realize MSU was playing a lot of freshmen and most of the starting pitching was new to the SEC and D-I ball. Add those two ingredients to the fact that the real power house teams of the SEC were yet to be played, and you wind up with an up and down MSU team the rest of the season.

From that point on, the baseball team was 19-17. MSU fans were wondering what happened to the team. What happened was the new pitching tailed off and the hitters, some veterans and some freshmen, also tailed off. A season that went from great expectations ended with a loss to North Carolina in a regional at Dudy Noble Field.

However, despite the fact the season ended on a sour note there is much to be excited about because most of the starters will be back, including five freshmen who played significant roles throughout the season. Also returning are SEC starting pitcher Alan Johnson, end of the year SEC starting pitcher Jeff Lacher, as well as outstanding redshirt freshman relief pitcher Jamie Gant. MSU also redshirted several outstanding freshmen, OF Tyler Jones, OF/IB Brian LaNinfa, 3B Ben Grisham and 2B/3B Casey Hamilton. Plus, the coaches signed several outstanding pitchers and middle infielders during the just completed recruiting season. Even with the losses of the likes of Matthew Brinson (draft), Matthew Maniscalco, Paul Maholm (draft) and possibly Steve Gendron (draft) and Jon Mungle (draft), the expectations will be very bright for next season.

Women's Basketball

Like the men's basketball team, expectations were high for this year's women's basketball team. And like the men's team, the women's team lived up to expectations during the regular season.

The team went 22-6, including 10-4 in SEC play, during the regular season.

Expectations were high going into SEC Tournament play. After winning the first game in the SEC Tournament, the Lady Bulldogs lost a heart breaking one-point, 76-75, game to Tennessee.

Next up for the team was the NCAA Tournament, the second year in a row MSU had been invited. After easily winning the first game, 73-47, against Manhattan, the Lady Bulldogs had to face New Mexico on their home court. Before 16,214 screaming fans, almost all New Mexico fans, MSU got down by 9 at halftime and could never fully recover, eventually losing 73-61.

Despite the early exit from the NCAA Tournament, this year's team achieved many great accomplishments, including tying for the best record in school history, the best SEC finish in school history, the fifth straight winning season, being ranked 20 consecutive weeks in the AP Poll and 18 in the WBCA/ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll.

Individually, senior LaToya Thomas was named the SEC Player of the Year as well as making all the All-America teams. Thomas was also the first player in MSU history to be the first player selected in the first round of any pro draft, being selected first by the Cleveland Rockets in the WNBA. Sophomore Tan White was named to the AP-SEC First Team and AP All-SEC First Team. Head Coach Sharon Fanning was a Naismith Coach of the Year Finalist.

Although the loss of Thomas will hurt significantly, returning starters White and Rebecca Cates as well as several outstanding freshmen (Chekwa Blessing [27-game starter], Doceide Warren [26 games, 3 as a starter] and Mamie McKinney [32 games, 1 start] ) will allow MSU to continue to put a very good team on the floor. Also expected to contribute is 5-8 juco All-American guard Tiania Burns. Tiania, who played at Copiah-Lincoln CC, scored 22.8 points per game this past season.

Men's Track and Field

The men's track team, after securing a 13th place finish in the Indoors Championship, had high hopes for the Outdoor track season. Ranked as high as 2nd in the nation at one point during the season, MSU's men's track team went into the Outdoor Championship with an outside chance of winning a National Championship.

Due to a couple of injuries and less than hoped for performances, the team wound up 20th in the nation during the championship meet.

With several youngsters returning and an outstanding class coming in, expectations may be even greater next season.

Women's Track and Field

The star of the season for the women's team was sophomore Tiffany McWilliams, possibly the greatest female track athlete in MSU's history. McWilliams took home the second NCAA championship in MSU women's history with her 1,500 meters victory at the Outdoor Track Championships.

State's women also scored their most points in NCAA meet history with the 10 points scored by McWilliams.

Men's Tennis

The MSU men's team came into the season ranked 25th in the nation. Peaking at 24th in the nation, the team suffered numerous injuries throughout the season that cost MSU any legitimate chance of being competitive in the NCAA Tournament. Playing without their number 3 and number 4 players, MSU lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to 26th ranked Pepperdine.

Junior All-American Romain Ambert, ranked 19th at the time, competed for the individual title but was ousted in the second round by the 14th ranked Rameez Junaid. Romain will be one of five lettermen returning for State next season.

Women's Tennis

MSU's women's team went 7-14 on the year, including 1-10 in SEC play. Seeded 11th in the SEC Tournament, MSU fell 4-1 to the sixth-seeded Western Division Champion Alabama (17-6, 6-5) in the first round of the SEC tournament in Knoxville, Tenn.

With 5 of 6 players returning, MSU should show improvement next season.


After going 33-26 during the regular season, MSU went two and out in the SEC Tournament.

Despite the early exit from the SEC Tournament, MSU was invited to the NCAA Tournament for the second-straight year, and the third time in four seasons. State, the number 4 seed in the Lincoln, Neb., regional, defeated 5th seeded Florida International, 4-2, before losing to Washington and Nebraska, both nationally ranked at 8th and 11th.

With All-American Iyhia McMichael returning as well as all but three other team members returning, MSU's softball team should continue to show improvement.

You can also add in the mix one of MSU's outstanding signees, pitcher Stephanie Comeaux. Comeaux, the staff ace in East Central (MS) High School's run to its second consecutive Class 4A state championship went 30-4-2, while striking out 403 batters in 238 innings and walking only 19. She allowed a total of five earned runs for an 0.14 earned run average.


The soccer team finished 6-13-1 for the year. Showing dramatic improvement during the spring exhibition season, the youthful Bulldog squad managed four shutouts while surrendering just five goals.

With an outstanding recruiting class coming in, MSU should be in store for a return to the upper half of the SEC.

On a sad note, MSU freshman soccer player Courtney Hubert, MSU's regular goalie during the 2003 spring soccer season, was killed in an automobile accident. Younger sister Erin, a passenger in the automobile, also perished in the crash.


MSU's volleyball team finished the season 10-20 overall and 1-5 in SEC play. All but one player returns.

Men's Golf

After finishing in 11th place in the SEC Tournament, the men's golf team concluded their season at the Atlanta Intercollegiate.

MSU named Clay Homan as head coach at the conclusion of the season, replacing Greg Martin.

MSU returns all but one of its seven golfers next season.

Women's Golf

After finishing 9th in the SEC Tournament, MSU's golf team earned an invitation to the NCAA Championship. announced Monday.

The bid marked the third time in four years that coach Sanders had taken MSU to the NCAA tournament. The Lady Bulldogs ended their season by finishing 12th in the 2003 NCAA East Regional, their highest postseason finish in school history.

Have a great Bulldog week!

Gene Swindoll

Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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