Womens basketball team in high spirits, healthy as official practice gets underway

Spartan Women's basketball opens up practice as first day of official sessions get underway.

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Joe Dandron

Credit: Joe Dandron / WDBM

Joe Dandron, Sports Director

EAST LANSING, Mich. – A lot has changed for the Michigan State women’s basketball team since last spring. Senior leader Jenna Allen has departed for Spain, playing professional basketball with Club Universitario de Ferrol. 

Dean Lockwood was named the new associate head after Amaka Agugua-Hamilton left for Missouri State – a head coaching job waiting for her – but this was only magnified by the fact that sophomore forward Sidney Cooks left for Mississippi State.

But with all the change around the team, much of what the Spartans are trying to do has stayed the same. With one of the top recruiting classes in the nation (No. 7 according to ESPNW), the roster that took some hits this offseason feels they are very much still the same team.

Even on the first day of official practice, spirits are high.

“There’s good energy, I think there’s just, you know five freshman on the team,” head coach Suzy Merchant said after practice. “That’s always interesting, but they’re doing a really good job to be honest. I think it’s just gonna take some time, but I’ve liked what we’ve seen so far.”

“I would say it was one of our best ones (first practices),” Madrekia Cook said.

MSU is coming off a season in which they lost to Notre Dame as a No. 9 seed in the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament, a game which came after they defeated No. 8 seed Central Michigan 88-87 in a nail-biter of a game.

A big part of what MSU will look to do – especially on offense – will be based around the same player that scored the winning basket in that game against the Chippewas: Shay Colley.

Colley recently finished a stint with Team Canada, and led the team last season, scoring 14.1 points per game.

Underclassmen

The recruiting class that was so highly touted nationally, was third best in the Big Ten and No. 7 nationally, according to ESPNW. 

Ohio State and Maryland had the No. 4 and No. 3 ranked classes.

The class, led my Michigan natives Julia Ayrault and Alyza Winston who were both four-star recruits, is one of the better in recent years under Merchant.

“Julia Ayrault, first and foremost, she’s a face-up four; she’s really talented in terms of shooting the ball, making decisions. She’s a guard-like four and that throws a different wrinkle to our offense; obviously it’s a big deal,” Merchant said. 

“I’ve been impressed with all of them, to be honest. They’ve picked some things up.”

The Spartans have a full roster of 15 players to start the year.

Healthy and ready for 2019 season

The Spartans will open up the regular season against Eastern Michigan on Nov. 5 at home. Their first organized action however will be against Ferris State in an exhibition on Oct. 30.

The team will head to Notre Dame as well early on in the year on Nov. 14 to take on the same team that ended their season in a 91-63 loss in South Bend, Indiana. 

But this year, the team is going to be much healthier going in. After having Tory Ozment, Kayle Belles, Claire Hendrickson, Cook, Sidney Cooks and Shay Colley all hampered by injuries – the team seems to be finally health heading into the year.

“Gradually you kind of see everyone losing the braces, kind of getting more in shape,”  Belles said. “Everybody’s just kind of getting strong and that’s helping all of our muscles out, everyone’s getting healthy.”

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