Rack Not Surprised by Lady Bulldogs Success

Mississippi State fans and even Southeastern Conference fans had to be surprised at the Lady Bulldogs' regular-season showing on the hardwood this season. And who can blame them? They were coming off a disastrous 6-22 campaign, a season that saw State drop 13 of 14 league games. And add in the fact that they played three freshmen and a sophomore in the starting lineup.

Yet they managed a 17-13 season, and a 7-7 mark in the toughest women's basketball conference in the country.

And for good measure, the Lady Bulldogs won five of seven road games in the SEC, almost unheard of outside the likes of powers Tennessee, Georgia and LSU.

But don't count Mississippi State freshman guard Alexis Rack among those caught off guard by the Lady Bulldogs' success.

"It was a good experience and exciting to play in the SEC," said Rack. "I thought our season would go this way with all of the young talent, in fact, I thought it would have been a little better. We knew we could do well this year.

"And I know this season isn't done yet, but I see us being so much better and experienced next year and the years after that."

As Rack noted, the Lady Bulldogs expect to play at least one more game this season, expecting a WNIT (Women's National Invitational Tournament) bid on Monday night with a slim shot at the NCAA Tournament.

With its 7-7 SEC mark, head coach Sharon Fanning and her squad finished 6th in the league. Over the past few years, the SEC has normally sent six schools to the Big Dance, and sometimes seven schools.

"I will be very excited and nobody wants this season to end," said Rack. "I am happy that we have a chance to keep on playing. We will go and have dinner at Coaches' house and watch the show and just wait.

"I envisioned that this opportunity could happen this year. We didn't win a couple of games down the stretch that we should have won, though. But if not the NCAA Tournament, then we look forward to winning the WNIT."

And Rack was a major part of State's success late in the season, a stretch that saw the Lady Bulldogs win seven of the last eleven games.

"I think it was the Florida State game that we won in overtime," said Rack. "That's when we all started to believe in each other and having that confidence in practice. We all started to push each other to play the best we could."

After a 1-3 conference start, Fanning decided to insert Rack into the starting lineup. Before drawing her first league start against South Carolina, Rack alternated in the backcourt with sophomore Marneshia Richard.

Fanning couldn't play both at the point at the same time but she could have both in the same backcourt.

"Early in the year, I just came in the game to do my job," said Rack. "Coming off the bench, it was my job to bring that energy and step up the tempo. But as a starter, I had to play that way the entire game and keep that same energy. But the energy level remains the same, whether coming off the bench or starting like I did most of the season."

With Rack in the starting five, State won four straight and six of seven in the league, climbing up the SEC ladder.

During that stretch, Rack was tabbed SEC Freshman of the Week for the second time this year, and averaged a team-best 15.3 points in the crucial month of February.

At the end of the regular season, Rack earned All-SEC Freshman honors.

Deadly beyond the arc, Rack is averaging 10.4 points and ranks fifth in the league with 1.97 three-pointers made per outing.

The Franklin, La., native posted double digits in 10 straight games, the first Lady Bulldog to do so since Tan White.

But her efforts on the floor didn't come without a price and despite Rack's rookie success, she admits there was one major adjustment she had to make after the all-state guard graduated from Franklin High School.

"I had to get prepared for those practices," said Rack. "In high school, you didn't have to work hard in practice every day and the practices were totally different and not at the same level.

"At this level, you have to work hard everyday. Coming from high school to college, learning how to practice hard is something I really had to work on."

Following her prep career, Rack had offers from State, Arkansas and Louisiana-Lafayette.

But she was sold on the Lady Bulldogs from the get-go.

"Really, I just felt at home and that was the biggest thing to me," said Rack. "It wasn't just Coach Fanning and the other coaches and the basketball program. It was about being comfortable and having that feeling of being at home. That's all it was about for me and my decision to come to Mississippi State and I felt that feeling the first time I visited."

Rack was not the only underclassmen to taste success this year. Fellow classmates Bethany Washington and Tysheka Grimes had their moments along with the steady Richard.

"I think the success we are having this year and being so young will help a lot for the future," said Rack. "We just have to work on things more and keep at it. We have to continue to put everything in the right place and continue to increase our offense and our defensive play. We have to keep working at it and work even harder than we did this year."

And as Rack and company vow to continue their upwards climb in the SEC, so will their expectations in the coming seasons.

"Our goal is to win the SEC (championship) and then go and win the national tournaments," said Rack. "We have high expectations for our program and that's what you want to have."

Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Paul, also a sports writer for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch, can be reached by email at pjones@cdispatch.com.

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