FAMILY TIES: ONE STATE. ONE TEAM.
By Sarah Elizabeth Rhett, Special to MSU Athletic Media Relations
The Encarta dictionary defines demeanor as someone's behavior, manner or appearance, especially as it reflects on character. MSU Head Coach Sharon Fanning has impressed her own definition of demeanor on her players this year.
"Demeanor is a certain swagger of a winner, one that keeps things in perspective" Fanning says.
Coach Fanning knows for some of the players, Southeastern Conference basketball is a huge adjustment mentally and physically. She said that is why she and her coaching staff have tried to teach the players how to be true winners on and off the court.
In the SEC, when a sophomore is considered a veteran to the team, the players must determine their goals as a team early on in the season. For the Lady Bulldogs, this meant deciding during a pre-season meeting that their attitudes really do affect the final score of the game. The players had no idea their discussion before they hit the court for practice would guide the team through the entire 2006-2007 season.
"The sophomores this year had a lot of experiences last year as freshmen that we didn't want the freshmen this year to have to go through," said sophomore guard Marneshia Richard. "Coach Fanning emphasized early on that we have a good basketball team and that we can go out and surprise a lot of people, and we believed her."
Fanning said she knew that the returning players did not want to be in the position they were in last year again at the end of this year's season. Richard and junior Imesia Jackson stepped up as leaders for the Lady Bulldogs this year by encouraging the team to pick up the pace.
"A lot of young teams can't find their rhythm but we found ours early on," said sophomore Robin Porter. "And we have kept a positive attitude through the good and the bad this year."
Winning almost three times as many games this year as they did in the 2005-2006 season, the Lady Bulldogs pre-determined their fate early on in the season. They found a balance between the competitive nature they needed to win and the positive attitude they all needed to possess to truly enjoy the game.
"It starts in the fall," Fanning noted. "This fall they wanted to listen, they wanted to improve and they wanted to win. The girls really started to learn as a whole to play as a team."
The players themselves would say there has not been one individual on the team this year that has played harder than the others. There has not been a "superstar" for the Lady Bulldogs this year and the team attributes the feat to their ability to play as a team.
"This year we never know who is going to go out there and light it up," said sophomore forward Lauren Roberts. "Imesia had 30 points against Florida and at the end of the game I didn't realize she had so many points because everybody did what they were supposed to do."
Fanning said that one thing she wants the players to learn is to be givers and depend on each other. She works very hard to make her team feel like they are a family, not just a mix of people with common interests.
"Coach Fanning- she's the mother of our family," said freshman guard Alexis Rack. "It just felt like family ever since we all came up here. It was not hard to get along at all."
For Rack, a freshman who lives over six hours from home, finding a school and a team with a family-like environment was extremely important to her.
"I was looking for something that felt like home and this place has felt that way ever since I have been here," she says. "The team has always felt like my family."
It is a little easier for Rack, a Franklin, La.-native, to feel at home at MSU. The relationship she has with her roommate and teammate Tysheka Grimes dates back to her days of high school basketball. Grimes and Rack competed in the state championship in high school. However, they were both vying for the ball and for a chance to put points on the score board for their own teams. These rivals on the court during the school year spent many months playing together on the same team in the Amateur Athletic Union during the summer months.
For Grimes and for Rack adjusting to the pressures of SEC basketball has been the hardest things to overcome throughout their first year. From harder practices to flying for the first time these student-athletes really learn to adjust to life outside of their hometowns.
"It was rough the first couple of trips because we travel the night before the game, then when we get there we have to do homework that night," Rack says. "We have study hall the next morning and then, hopefully we win the game, fly back, work on homework and go to class the next morning at 8 a.m."
Some of the Lady Bulldogs have taken their first flights with the team.
"The first time I flew was with the team, I was so nervous and I am still shaky about getting on planes, but I am better than I was the first time I got on," Grimes said.
Several of the Lady Bulldogs feel Coach Fanning is the mother of the team and she views the players as her own daughters. Coach Fanning mirrored a concerned parent when she said: "Our job is to develop young leaders. Hopefully they will see it [basketball] is a bigger picture than just the x's and the o's."
"Coach Perry always pulls me aside when we are off the court and tells me to tuck my shirt in, take the hood off my head and put the gum away, taking care of us. It is real fun because they teach us good things on and off the court," Grimes says. Most recently, Fanning explained to the team the importance of tipping the hotel wait staff after the team's stay in Duluth, Ga., for the SEC Tournament.
Each year the Lady Bulldogs are encouraged by the coaching staff to participate in charity events each semester. This year alone, the team has adopted a family to support during the Christmas holidays, participated in the Halloween Carnival on the MSU campus and volunteered their time at the Compassion Pantry at Starkville Church of Christ. This is one way Coach Fanning and her staff challenge the players to over achieve in all they do.
Fanning noted, "We get these girls as 17 and 18-year-olds, and it is a pleasure to see how in four or five years they are polished individuals as they have grown in their confidence."
One player who takes what she is learning from her coaches and from living the life of a Lady Bulldog is civil engineering major Richard. She has learned how to balance her time down to the minute because she juggles basketball and a degree that requires a lot of attention outside of the classroom.
"I have learned to work hard and take responsibility for things I do," Richard said. "I try to be a leader to the younger people on the team because the bond is there and you can just feel the family-like atmosphere we have established this year."
Fanning said that throughout the season after each game they have evaluated in practice what needs to be worked on and in the following games they can see how the team has improved in those needed areas.
And, improve they have. After last season, this team has transformed into one of the year's biggest turnarounds. MSU went 17-13 during the regular season, including finishing sixth in the league with a 7-7 mark. Miracle? Not by any means. It starts with those family ties and believing in One State. One Team.
STARKVILLE, Miss. - After finishing the regular season 17-13 overall, the Mississippi State women's basketball team received the Southeastern Conference's automatic bid to the 2007 Women's National Invitation Tournament, as announced late Monday evening.
MSU, who received a first round bye, faces the winner of the Tulane/Jackson State game, scheduled for Wednesday in New Orleans.
MState's second round contest is scheduled to be played in Starkville, however a date and time will be set following the opening round contest.
SPRINGFIELD, La. - Mississippi State's men's golf team opened play at the Carter Plantation Intercollegiate with rounds of 298 and 302 on Monday. After 36 holes of competition, MSU stands 10th on the team leaderboard.
Pacing the Bulldog line up on day one of the two-day event was sophomore Matt Fast. The Hattiesburg, Miss.-native opened with a 4-over par round of 77, but rebounded in the second round to post a 1-under par 71. Fast currently stand tied for 22nd in the individual standings heading into Tuesday's final round. Sophomore Carlos Sainz, Jr. continued his steady play with rounds of 75 and 74. The Elgin, Ill.-product is one stroke back of Fast in 26 th place. State's Brian Mason started the day with a 71 to lead the squad in the morning round.
Host Southeastern Louisiana leads the 15-team field after Monday. The Lions carded rounds of 285 and 286. SELU's Peter O'Keeffe, Middle Tennessee State's Kent Bull and Jacksonville State's Daniel Willett lead the individual leaderboard at 1-under par.
Tuesday's final round will begin at 1 a.m. CST at No.1 and No. 10.