FRESHMEN QUARTET MADE THEIR MARK IN LADY BULLDOG HISTORY
By Christina Hilliard, MSU Media Relations Student Assistant
From the time that any athlete picks up a ball and realizes they have talent, they set goals. That goal might be to lead their team in scoring, win a championship, or even play a Division I sport. This year's freshman class has done just that and accomplished so much more. Coming into the 2005-2006 season, Mississippi State Lady Bulldog head coach Sharon Fanning was quoted as saying, "when you lose a player like Tan White, other players have to step up." Who would have thought that the players that would step up would be this year's incoming freshmen class? The quartet of Heather Hollis, Robin Porter, Marneshia Richard, and Lauren Roberts have made history by becoming the first four freshmen to start together in a women's basketball game for Mississippi State.
Hollis, Porter, Richard, and Roberts competed in five contests starting together this season compiling a 1-4 record. In four of those five games, MSU was led in scoring by a freshman. In the lone win against Maine (80-55) Hollis scored a career-high 22 points while Porter chipped in 16 of her own. At the conclusion of the MSU Classic, during which the Lady Bulldogs defeated Morehead State, 78-65, and dropped a 42-61 decision to ranked Purdue, Richard led MSU with 12 points in the loss and Hollis was named to the all-tournament team after tallying 17 points. Hollis again tallied double digits with 21 points at Vanderbilt.
Head coach Sharon Fanning is proud of her newcomers. "They're competitors," complimented Fanning. "They work very, very hard. They listen well and they have learned quickly. That is something that I hope they continue the things that put them in a position to start early on. Those are the qualities that helped them gain that opportunity. I hope those things continue to carry over to their future and that they build on them and realize the factors that gave them the early opportunity."
Coming into this season Fanning wanted to push the ball. Adding a spark to the Maroon and White's backcourt is Hollis and Richard. Traditionally, guards are the vocal leaders of the court, knowing when to slow the pace of the game down, when to do a skip pass into the post, and when to penetrate the lane themselves. Having to be able to think quickly on their feet, this trait is parlayed off the court as well. Richard possibly has the most challenging major on the team in engineering, while Hollis is in biology. Hollis tabbed many academic awards in high school including the honor of being ranked sixth in her class and named Academic all-State by the Birmingham News.
Richard, the 5-8 guard out of Lamar, Miss. is majoring in civil engineering. "I just try to budget my time and use it wisely and try to study everyday and balance basketball and studying." While on the road Richard says to balance the two is tough, but she brings her laptop with her everywhere she goes. This probably does not seem tough for someone whose dream job is to be an engineer in an air-conditioned office. Richard based her decision to come to Mississippi State because of the engineering program.
Her tutor on the court just so happens to be battled-tested senior guard Doceide Warren. Richard was given the opportunity to play quality minutes this season due to Warren's hip and hamstring injuries. "Doceide encourages me a lot and she tries to teach me to be a leader more vocally, to try to take over the team, to know when to pass the ball, who to pass the ball to, and in any situation who to get the ball to. She is really good support."
Richard tallied 128 points and 68 assists in her first season with the Maroon and White, even leading the team in scoring twice this season.
Hollis, the Sulligent, Ala. native, adds another young face to the Lady Bulldog backcourt. Not only is she a talented new face on the court, Hollis, who was voted "Most Talented" by her high school classmates, is also gifted off the court. She balances basketball, school, and music at home. The 5-11 guard who's most prized possession is her guitar, has become a local music star and has a CD out in her hometown.
"In high school when I was singing in church, a family friend begged me to come down and let him record my voice," said Hollis. "A lot of my friends and parents just wanted to have me on CD. We recorded like four or five songs and handed the CDs out to family and friends."
Her other talent seems to be racking up points for the Lady Bulldogs. She concluded the season third on the team in scoring with 8.0 ppg. Hollis attributes her scoring to fellow guard Richard being able to penetrate and kick the ball out to her. This has allowed Hollis to become a real three-point threat, totaling a team-high 27 three-pointers this season. She believes keeping an arch on the ball and practicing a lot helps keep her shooting on track. Not only is Hollis a three-point threat, she also shoots free throws well. Shooting 76 percent from the charity stripe ranked her in the SEC among league free throw shooters at times during the season.
The post position is highly regarded as the toughest position on the floor. Two new faces completed the frontcourt to do just that. Adding strength in the post position are guard/forward Robin Porter and forward Lauren Roberts. Playing in the SEC, post players have to be able to bang and play with the likes of Tennessee's Candace Parker and Georgia's Tasha Humphrey and Porter and Roberts have not backed down.
Porter, who led the team in scoring this season with 10.6 ppg and finished second in rebounding with 6.0 rpg behind Mamie McKinney, is a force to be reckoned with. Last year's Alabama 3A Player of the Year has battled injuries and started every game for the Maroon and White. In her young career, Porter tallied three double-doubles, 16 double figure point games, and four double figure rebounding games. The Abbeville, Ala., native became just the fifth Lady Bulldog freshman to lead her team in scoring average. The last to do so was four-time Kodak All-American LaToya Thomas.
The former all-State performer says that she has found her strength in basketball. "It is great guarding the best in the SEC because it makes you stronger and you always want to improve," said Porter. She says that she does not concentrate too much on the scoring part of the game because there are other aspects besides tallying points. She describes her own play as aggressive and creative. On top of being an offensive threat, Porter helps out on the defensive end tallying 168 rebounds and 14 blocks on the season. Her brother, Chris Porter, an All-American at Auburn, warned her that the SEC was a tough and competitive conference to play in.
Adding strength in the post position with Porter is Roberts. In her bright career, Roberts had four double digit scoring games to her credit including her season-high 14 points against TCU in the Caribbean Classic. In a conference where free throws will win or lose a ball game, Roberts shot 68 percent from the charity stripe.
"It's awesome," said Roberts on playing in the SEC. "It's a lot of work and it's really hard, but I think everything makes you a stronger person. Being able to compete at this high level is a great opportunity and just working with everyone makes you a better person."
At this level of competition, family support is huge. It is not uncommon to look up in the stands and see the Collierville, Tenn. native's parents cheering her on. Roberts says that she loves her family and her parents are her support system and they help her keep her head up. The aspiring actress had a stellar high school career at Houston (TN) High School averaging 15.0 ppg and 7.0 rpg. Roberts, whose dream job is to become a Division I basketball coach, was a member of the West Tennessee All-Star team, Best of Preps All-Metro team, and a Best of the Preps Athlete of the Year nominee. Roberts used aggressive, versatile, and fundamental to describe her style of play. It is not often that you do not see Roberts on the floor scrambling for the loose ball and attacking the basketball, traits that are essential to playing in the SEC.
To complement this group of freshmen is newcomer walk-on Bethany Workman. After walking on to the 2005-2006 squad, Workman was given a scholarship for the spring semester. The Springtown, Texas native was also named MSU's representative on the 2006 SEC Good Works Team. Along with the smart and talented backcourt, it is not surprising that Workman has earned a 3.84 overall GPA. The Good Works team is compiled of players from each team that have given back to their community. The freshman has participated in Lady Bulldog community programs such as Compassion Pantry, Adopt-A-Family, and Bully's Blitz, where the players go and read to local elementary school children.
All agreed the college game moves fast and it is a challenge. If their early success is any indication, these freshmen are on track to have outstanding careers at MSU.