STARKVILLE – Here’s how loaded Mississippi State’s women will be next season: Marneshia Richard, the starting point guard two years ago, will have to fight for playing time.
Richard, a senior, sat out this past season with a microfracture on her right knee. A medical redshirt buys her another year, and the Lady Bulldogs will be glad to have her back.
“One of our leaders who we lost this past year, and she’s going to bring everything to the table,” said guard Alexis Rack, an all-SEC second-teamer who will be a senior.
But Richard will be just one of several weapons in 2009-10.
MSU went 23-10 and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament this year, its first trip to the Big Dance in six years. That 2002-03 team lost a lot of talent. This one returns four players with starting experience, and Richard would make five.
“It’s all on paper now that everybody gets back, and you pray for the health,” coach Sharon Fanning said. “We’re so thankful for our blessings this year and the numbers that we had.”
Rack and Armelie Lumanu both spent time at the point, and Pontotoc’s Di’Amber Johnson got good backcourt minutes as a freshman.
“Just what I remember playing with Marneshia my sophomore year,” Rack said, “and how comfortable we were together, and adding Melie and Di’Amber and the other newcomers, I think it’s going to be unbelievable.”
With talent and experience levels so high, the real question for State will be the one it tried to answer this past season: Can they sustain a 40-minute effort every night? That wasn’t always achieved.
After an 11-0 start, MSU hit some rough patches in SEC play as some new parts – like Lumanu and fellow junior college transfer Chanel Mokango – found their place in the fabric of the team.
The Lady Bulldogs think their two NCAA tourney games – a win over Texas and a close loss to Ohio State – signified the turning of a corner.
“People that saw us all year and watched most of the ballgames can see that the last two ballgames were our best games we played all year – defensively, offensively, and just the heart we played with,” Richard said.
As she watched the season unfold, Richard tried to offer encouragement and sound advice. It pained her to not help State go even farther, but the promise of next year makes it easy to put that behind.
Fanning expects Richard to work as hard as always and be a big factor, but the nice thing is she’ll be surrounded by a team that’s maturing fast.
“There are some things that are a process. This team hadn’t been ready to get to an NCAA tournament until this point, for whatever reason,” Fanning said. “And now they take the next step of being ready.”
Brad Locke/Daily Journal