Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

In just his fourth season at Mississippi State, Coach Vic Schafer has the Bulldogs among the national elite.

Four years ago today, the Mississippi State's women's basketball jerseys were already packed away for next year. In fact, Vic Schaefer's first Bulldog basketball team played their final contest much earlier in the month of March, March 6th to be exact. To fully illustrate the point, Schaefer's lady Bulldogs were the first team sent home from the SEC tournament that year. A 13-18 Alabama team that had only won two conference games on the season beat State by 27 points, 63-36.

The only team in the Southeastern Conference that season to enjoy a worse season was Ole Miss, who finished 9-20. The Rebels imposed a post season ban due to off the court indiscretions that saw them elect to pass on the SEC tourney.

The lady Bulldogs opened the conference slate that year with six straight losses. Schaefer's first SEC win came at home over Ole Miss in a 72-57 affair. The Rebels evened the season record against State when they hosted the return trip in February.

While the team showed some promise, there would be no magical run in the post season to begin the Vic Schaefer era.

The 2013-14 brought a new sense of optimism to women's basketball in Starkville. The Ladies finished the season with a 22-14 mark and won three post season games advancing to the quarterfinals of the Women's NIT.

Only one other Lady Bulldog basketball team had played that deep into that post season tournament, that program high coming in 2001. Remnants of that squad would go on to post back to back 2nd round showings in the NCAA women's tournament in 2002 and 2003.

Following in the footsteps of some of the program's finest teams, the 2015 and 2016 Bulldogs also found themselves included in the NCAA field on selection Monday. 

In 2015, the Bulldogs would up facing off against Tulane in the first round. The two teams met the season before in the first round of the Women's NIT. After a ten point victory over the Green Wave, 57-47, Mississippi State fell to host school Duke, 64-56.

Following a season that featured a then school record 27 wins, Schaefer was named SEC coach of the year and received some consideration for national coach of the year honors. 

The Bulldogs entered the 2016 campaign with plenty of confidence, momentum and talent. Rising as high as 6th in the national polls, the Bulldogs were considered real contenders in the race for the SEC crown.

A road loss at Missouri upset the apple cart a bit, before a blow out win over Ole Miss allowed the Bulldogs to take out some frustration, 79-51. 

The ladies in Maroon and White could not build on that success dropping back to back games against Georgia and eventual SEC champion South Carolina. 

With the season on the brink, the Bulldogs did something no other team before them had done, beat Tennessee. While it took a blood pumping fourth quarter and an overtime period to dispatch the Lady Vols, another first had been achieved. 

Bulldog fans would not have to wait another 36 tries for a second win over the powers from Knoxville, State bested the improving Volunteers in the SEC tournament to earn a spot in the conference title game opposite South Carolina.

Ranked 16th in the country, many hoped the Bulldogs would have the chance to host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history. While it took a scheduling conflict in East Lansing, Michigan to aid in that effort, the ladies from Starkville would get to dance in their own gym for the first time ever.

Making the most of the hosting opportunity, State knocked off UT-Chattanooga 60-50 and then the Spartans of Michigan State 74-72 to advance to the Sweet 16 for just the second time in school history.

On Sunday, 7,094 fans attended the Bulldogs match-up with Michigan State. Spartan head coach Suzy Merchant would later say that the 7,000 sounded like 70,000 and that it was the loudest crowd she had played before in her 21 years of coaching.

Gracious comments from a classy coach indeed. 

Those fans did not show up by happenstance. They were drawn to town by the positive direction of the Bulldog basketball program. The final game of Schaefer's first year at the helm of the Mississippi State program ended with a 50-38 win over Georgia. Just 1,350 paid to see that. Over five times that number showed up on Sunday to celebrate history.

In 2015, the lady Bulldogs needed that 28th win to advance beyond the second round. They came up a few points short of that victory. Faced with the same situation this season, the ladies pulled it through and set a new program best for victories in a season earning a sweet sixteen berth in the process.

In these parts, history has shown that a senior laden team in any sport may be what it takes to accomplish things of real consequence. Mississippi State women's basketball has just one senior, Sherise Williams, who has played largely as a reserve this season.

While this season still has at least one game left in it, fans are already excited about next season and what is to come. 

Prior to this current run of success under Schaefer, Mississippi State has not had a lot of sustained success in women's hoops. There have been some great players such as LaToya Thomas and Tan White who ranked among the SEC's elite, but we may be in the glory days of women's hoops in Starkville.

In four years, the Bulldogs have gone from a losing record to the quarterfinals of the WNIT, to the second round of the NCAA and now to the Sweet Sixteen. With nearly everyone coming back next season, the best could be still to come.


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