EAST LANSING– With the unprecedented announcement that both the NCAA Men’s and Women’s tournament will be cancelled, the 2019-20 season will come to an unceremonious end for the Michigan State Spartans.
With the season officially over, the MSU women will finish the season with a 16-14 overall mark. Despite a rash of injuries to key players, the Green and White were able to amass a 9-9 record in conference play. Some of the more notable victories on the season for the Spartans include road wins over Purdue, Rutgers and Notre Dame, as well as home triumphs against Ohio State and Rutgers.
Both Nia Clouden and Taryn McCutcheon were named to the second team All-Big Ten list by the coaches of the conference after the conclusion of the regular season. Clouden was also named to the second team by the media, while McCutcheon would receive an honorable mention.
Clouden and McCutcheon would receive more hardware at the Spartans’ end of the year banquet that took place on Tuesday at the Breslin Center. Both players would receive the co-player of the year award. McCutcheon would also win the defensive player of the year award for the squad. Julia Ayrault was honored for her solid freshman campaign with the sixth player of the year award, while Kayla Belles received the most improved player distinction. Freshman Moira Joiner would receive the coaches award and fifth-year senior Victoria Gaines would be the recipient of the Kim Archer Character Award.
The entire season was one of setbacks for the Spartans. Time and time again, key injuries derailed what was supposed to be a magical season for the Green and White. After all, MSU was picked to finish second in the conference by Big Ten coaches and third by the media back on Oct. 21.
These expectations were of course contingent on the fact that Shay Colley, Victoria Gaines and Mardrekia Cook would be healthy for the entirety of the season. Unfortunately, Gaines would only play in 11 games on the season, while Colley played in 10. Cook, who tore her achilles in practice in the days leading up to the Spartans’ matchup against Purdue on Jan. 30, was only able to play in 17 games.
Other players such as McCutcheon and Belles didn’t miss significant playing time, but were still hampered with nagging injuries that limited their on-court performance. McCutcheon in particular battled a broken finger and a sore achilles for the better part of a month in mid-January and early February.
On paper, the Spartans look as average as a team can possibly be. A 9-9 record in conference and a 16-14 record would seem to signal the fact that this club was remarkably mediocre for the majority of the season. However, when injuries and the brutal strength of schedule that MSU was forced to deal with are taken into consideration, this season should be viewed as a massive success.
Coach Suzy Merchant proved once again this season why she is one of the best coaches in the game. While losing three key players would normally doom a team to a forgettable season, Merchant was able to keep this team competitive and resilient throughout the season, proving that this program is headed in the right direction.
The Spartans finished the season on a particularly high note by winning five out of their final seven contests. These included victories over Rutgers, Illinois, Minnesota, Penn State and Purdue. As a result of beating Illinois back on Feb. 26, Merchant moved into eighth place on the all-time Big Ten wins list with her 135th career conference win.
MSU is now left with a strong foundation in the wake of a chaotic season. MSU will return leading scorer Nia Clouden, who averaged 14.5 points per game, as well as talented young athletes Joiner, Belles, Ayrault, Tory Ozment and Taiyier Parks. The Spartans will also welcome in four-star forward Kendall Bostic to East Lansing for next season.
All in all, the 2019-20 season will be remembered as one of the more wild and unpredictable campaigns in memory. From a rash of untimely injuries to the early cancellation of a possible WNIT campaign, the season was a year of firsts. Regardless, MSU will now prepare for the 2020-21 season with a lot of young talent and a lot to prove.