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Head Coach Suzy Merchant spoke to the media to begin the afternoon's event.
 
Head Coach Suzy Merchant spoke to the media to begin the afternoon's event.
 
 

Oct. 22, 2008

Head Coach Suzy Merchant's Press Conference
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Assistant Coach Rick Albro | Aisha Jefferson | Mia Johnson | Mandy Piechowski | Courtney Schiffauer

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Media Day Quotes
Rick Albro | Mia Johnson | Lauren Aitch | Aisha Jefferson | Allyssa DeHaan | Jasmine Holmes | Mandy Piechowski | Kalisha Keane | Brittney Thomas | Cetera Washington | Taja Wilson | Lykendra Johnson | Taylor Alton | Porschè Poole | Courtney Schiffauer

Head Coach Suzy Merchant Press Conference Transcript

 

COACH MERCHANT:  Good afternoon. I think probably, like every coach this time of year, you're just cautiously optimistic.  Everybody's undefeated and that's a positive thing.

 

We have a lot to look forward to this season.  We had taken a few lumps last year with some injuries, forced some young kids to play a whole lot of minutes.  Now because of that I feel like we're in a much better position this year as we head into the season.  I think we're one of the few programs that come back with all five starters.  Actually, if you add Aisha Jefferson into that, it's almost like six depending on the rotation.

 

One thing I can tell you, we're going to have a lot more depth this year, which is a positive thing.  I think we're much more athletic top to bottom than we've been in the past, and very interchangeable.  Kind of reminds me of my days past in a sense because I think when you have interchangeable parts, I think things really flow well together and you can play a lot of different combinations.

 

One thing I'm really looking forward to, a little bit of a change, is being able to do a few more things defensively. We'll be able to press a little bit more, change up our defense, and at the same time still be able to play those same people on offense.  I think a year ago sometimes our better offensive team wasn't our best defensive team, and our best defensive team might not have been our best offensive team.  This year I don't really feel like that.  I feel like we have a good blend and a good mesh of young talent as well as returning talent.

 

Q.  Can you just start out by talking about A.J. (Aisha Jefferson).  You said you have all five starters back.  She's kind of the sixth.  What does she bring to this team this year that you didn't have last year?

COACH MERCHANT:  That's a good question.  It's hard to explain to people when you're not part of that group and that program, in the program itself.  But when she was on the court, she was a tremendous player in terms of points and rebounds.  She was just so much more to us.  She was our emotional leader.  She's our energy, our passion.  She's a two-time captain for me since I was here.  She was a captain last year, and again this year.  I think she exemplifies everything you want everybody to play to that standard, to her standards I guess. With her experience coming back, I just think she's healthy, she's happy, she's ready.

 

Q.  A hundred percent?

COACH MERCHANT:  A hundred percent.  Going a hundred percent.  Doesn't step out of anything.  She does wear a knee brace.  Kids that blow their knees out, that next year they are always required to wear that knee brace.  But she's doing really well.

 

Q.  The season went probably almost as deep as it could playing in the WNIT finals, whatnot.  Can you look towards how your first season went, how it provides kind of the framework for what you hope to see in this second year now that you have your feet all settled in?

COACH MERCHANT:  I think in the beginning, it certainly had some rocky points, I think like any season.  Especially it's not really an issue with the players, it was more you have a whole new coaching staff with different terminology, different expectations.  We played differently.  I think that whole beginning of the season was a real learning curve.

But I think you saw down the stretch, I think we ended up winning 10 of our last 13.  We put things together.  We started playing harder, playing better together.  That's the one thing that I'm going to take forward, is that I really felt like we bonded as a team down the stretch, had great production out of a lot of different people, really bought into, not only the system, but playing with each other.

I think the other thing, too, is that postseason, still it wasn't the NCAA Tournament, which we really feel like we belonged in, and I'm still frustrated that we weren't, but we did take that and we were in a survive-and-advance, survive-and-advance mode.  That's an experience that our freshmen will take forward into this season and into the postseason, which you lose the game, you're done for the year.  So our kids did a good job of putting some back-to-back games to stay alive.

 

Q.  Can you talk a little bit about Lykendra Johnson, what she will bring to this team, what that off year meant for her?

COACH MERCHANT:  You love Lykendra Johnson.  You're always asking me about her.  You know what, there's a good reason for that.  A lot of people don't know about that.  You've done a good job with your homework because she's a player.  She sat out last year due to academics.  She is in uniform this year.

It's just been really a pleasure to watch her grow as a player.  She really has a great feel for the game.  She's so athletic.  She can play facing up.  She can play with her back to the basket.  I think what you see in Lykendra is probably more of a guard-like Aisha Jefferson in terms of her ability, where Aisha is more of a power four, she's more of a face-up four that can play some three.  She has the ability to make people around her better.  She can go coast-to-coast.  She's going to be a big part of what we do this season.

Even yesterday's practice, the first few practices, she was kind of feeling her way.  After a whole year off, you know, now it interesting to watch her.  The light is starting to come back on, she's getting a feel for the game.  She's a player.  There's no question the league is going to be surprised by some of the things she can do.

 

Q.  Update us on the off-season, the summer.  You were pretty adamant in your challenge to the team.  I don't know if you said this, but you seemed to think they were soft, out of shape, not enough gym rats.  I don't know if you can coach that.  Did you see any progress in that over the off-season?

COACH MERCHANT:  Absolutely.  Kind of put it in a good perspective.  You said that about them, I didn't. You know, it was true.  I felt like they were playing with putting the uniform on, and that the front of their uniform was winning the games for them, not really what was inside.  We kind of had to get back to basics.  We wanted them in the gym.  We had every single player in our program here from June 30th on.  Every morning they were in the gym shooting a thousand shots a day as a group.  They were coming back and doing some strength and conditioning, also on top of that playing.  I feel like we've had a great summer and a much-needed summer to get back to getting after it a little bit.  You know, nothing happens by accident.

 

Q.  Can you teach a player to be a gym rat or does that come within?

COACH MERCHANT:  Well, I always think you have to recruit it, too.  I do think there's something about kids that have a passion for the game.  And I think that's one of our X factors.  But I also think as a coach it's your job to instill it.  If they don't have it, you've got to find the spark that lights that fire, that gets them back in the gym.  One thing I will say about this group is I do feel like we have a collective group, top to bottom, from our walk-on to our best player, that has a passion and a drive to be in the gym.  There's nobody that does not want to be in there that walks through those doors that doesn't want to get better.  I couldn't really say that a year ago.  I feel that way now.

 

Q.  How has Brittney (Thomas) progressed?  Who would be her backup?

COACH MERCHANT:  We recruited Porsché Poole, who would be the backup to Brittney Thomas.  Also they can play together.  Brittney has had a very good summer.  I think the one thing that Brittney learned is she deferred a lot offensively last year.  She played on such a great high school team, with Tony Smith as an incredible coach.  She had so many great players around her that she didn't have to score.  Last year we asked her to be a little more part of the offense.  Kind of caught her off guard.  I think getting her back in the gym, shooting shots, getting a rhythm to her jump shot has been something that has been positive.

The one thing I'm excited about with her, I think we have a lot more athleticism around her.  Last year I think she stood out.  I think she'll stand out this year, but I think there will be other kids that elevate themselves to her level of play, especially defensively.

 

Q.  Not many schools in the country have four freshmen that received significant time.  Even though you won't have Taja (Wilson) this year, how much better is this team going to be as a whole because you're going to have three freshmen who went through the wars last year?

COACH MERCHANT:  Well, I think we took our lumps with our freshmen last year.  There's no question.  But because of that, I think you're right.  I mean, I almost feel like our freshmen, which is now a sophomore class, are more like juniors and seniors in terms of their experience and expectations of themselves and of the program.   So, I mean, as you look back, sometimes you were frustrated when you had a freshman point guard and a freshman two and a freshman four and Taja would come in and fill minutes.  At the same time I think it's really going to pay off for us.  I certainly look for that to happen this year.

 

Q.  Can you talk a little bit about Taja's injury, what happened, just the kind of challenge it is to the depth?  Obviously this year a little deeper right now at that position.

COACH MERCHANT:  Right.  Well, certainly we're disappointed about Taja.  She blew her knee out on Thursday of last week.  Weren't really sure.  Then we found out actually, I think late Midnight Madness that night.  So she's disappointed.  I think the one thing when you know Taja is she turns anything that's negative into a positive.  She just has a real knack for seeing things in a positive way.  And I think this will be a year for her that maybe she can grow as a player in terms of being able to work on her game. You're right, we had depth.  So maybe this is an opportunity for her to improve her game so that next year she steps right in and doesn't miss a beat.

 

Q.  Is she going to redshirt?

COACH MERCHANT:  Yeah, she's done for the year.  They're looking at maybe three weeks to four weeks, then they'll do the surgery, then it will be, as usual, a four- to six-month process.

 

Q.  You'll probably have an expanded role for Lauren Aitch this year.  Can you talk about what you expect out of her this year?

COACH MERCHANT:  She was our sixth man of the year in terms of our awards.  I thought she was invaluable to us last year.  I certainly felt down the stretch it was basically Allyssa (DeHaan) and her and that was it.  She played some key minutes.  You can look back on any of the films, any of the games we played well in, and when we played well, had things going, Lauren Aitch was right there.  She was getting offensive rebounds.  She was running the floor.  She was banging inside.  I think the better she played, the better we played.  So she's been a vital spark for us last year.  I certainly look for her to do the same thing this year.

 

Q.  What did you find out, if anything, about yourself as a head coach last year now that you're up here in the Big Ten?  How does that parlay into knowing what you expect your team to be able to do in the conference this year?

COACH MERCHANT:  That's a good question.  You know, I think every year as a coach you learn.  It doesn't matter.  I'll learn this year.  If I've been in it 15 years here, I'll learn that year, too.

Some of the things I feel like I learned a little bit was because of some of the issues I thought that we had, you know, we worked really, really hard at scouting reports.  I've always done that in the past.  But I think when you've built a program like at Eastern Michigan, for example, you can rely on your system and your style.  Because my system and style was so new to these kids, we couldn't just rely on that.  We had to really spend extra time with our kids on scouting reports.  I think probably I would tell you that we at times I felt were overboard worrying about the other guy.  You know what, it kept us in games.  It gave us opportunities to win.  That's what our job is.  So I felt like we did a really good job of preparing night in and night out.  I think we're always prepared, but I think we were extremely prepared this year.  If you can carry that lesson over to continue that without taking away from what we do will be the challenge.

 

Q.  How does your knowledge of knowing how the Big Ten works, help set up this year?

COACH MERCHANT:  I felt in a lot of ways we were all freshmen, even the travel piece.  I mean, when you said the word 'charter' to me it was a bus.  Here it's a plane.  It's interesting for me.  One day to be in Pennsylvania, four hours later I'm home in my house.  It was kind of bizarre.  Just little things like that.  I think you learn the travel piece, the grueling grind of the season.

The other thing I thought was different that I hadn't experienced, and I don't think it takes long, but I think the physical play in the post particularly was something that was new.  It was new because, you come up the way I did, you don't always get 6-4, 6-5, 6-9 post players.  You have the mid-major, the 6-foot flasher, driver, face up, can do a little bit of everything.  That was a little bit new in terms of making sure we could get Allyssa (DeHaan) the ball, that she wasn't getting beat up on, although I thought she did get beat up on.  There were some fouls that weren't called.  That's part of the game, I guess.

 

Q.  You touched on Porsché's role as Brittney's backup.  Could you go in depth about the other freshmen.

COACH MERCHANT:  Well, Porsché Poole, I mentioned her.  What Porsché brings is the dynamic of a little bit of what Courtney Davidson could bring in terms of a play-maker, a real understanding of the job.  I'll tell you, I think she's obviously better defensively.  I think she's faster, quicker, that kind of thing.  But she's a play-maker.  She can get in.  She can mess around with the high ball screen.  She can throw no-look passes.  When you have someone that can create shots for other people, I think that's something that's pretty invaluable.  And I thought we definitely needed to replace that and certainly make sure we had that.  So we recruited Porsché.

(Courtney) Schiffauer is a blue-collar, hard-working four man that can face up.  She can run like the wind.  I mean, she doesn't back down from anybody.  I think she was Ohio Player of the Year for a reason.  She literally put her high school team on her back.  She can score the ball a lot of different ways.  The biggest thing I think you'll see is she's going to bring an added toughness to our team.

Taylor Alton is someone that was at our camp.  I really felt like she just is a utility player that can do everything.  I mean, she is in the right spot at the right time all the time.  So I think what she's going to bring through her growth as a player is the ability to do things right, to be in the right spot, to understand the game, and think the game a little bit.

Then Lykendra Johnson we already talked about.  Those are our four freshmen.

 

Q.  Are they going to see significant playing time or is that yet to be determined?

COACH MERCHANT:  Yet to be determined.  You know, you want it 'go-get-it' kind of thing.  It's very competitive and intense in practice.  I can tell you that the energy, I feel like the energy in practice and the competitiveness, you ask our assistant coaches, it's like night and day.  It's loud.  It's aggressive.  It's attacking.  I mean, it's just a different feel in that gym.

 

Q.  Last year Brittney had games with 38, 39 minutes.  Is it a specific goal this year for her to play less minutes?  You said a number of times last year how you wanted to run more with your team next year.  How is that coming?

COACH MERCHANT:  Well, we're throwing it around a lot right now.  I feel like that's the thing you've got to do.  You've got to let them make mistakes now, then you can rein them in.  Play at a faster pace, let them experience that.  Now make better decisions.

Do I anticipate Brittney playing that many minutes?  I don't know.  I guess I think it depends.  The one thing about Brittney Thomas is she can go that many minutes at this level for that long if we have to.  Do I anticipate it?  No.  I hope to give her a lot more rest so she's even more effective out there.  Just going to depend on the opponent, the time and the situation.

 

Q.  You've talked about balanced statistics.  Last year you were famous for balanced assists, rebounds, scoring.  Is that going to be something that's true this season or will there be somebody stepping up and getting the numbers up?

COACH MERCHANT:  We really went through and did an in-depth look at our offense especially.  When you looked at it, we did some statistics where if we just scored six more points a game, we would have been 11-1 in those games.  When you think about six more points a game, it can come on either side of the ball.  But our rebounding issue was a problem.  I think now that's not going to be a problem out of the gate. 

So to answer your question, I do feel like we're going to have a five-prong attack out there.  I don't think there's going to be people that you can't guard.  And if people back off a player, then we can substitute, and that other person can come in.  I feel like we have a good balance of perimeter shooting, taking it to the rim, ability to go inside as well as outside.  So I anticipate us even having the ability to be more unselfish.

You know, one of the keys to that is going to be probably Kalisha Keane, who is moving back to that guard spot.  We haven't talked much about her, but I think she finished the year as the all-time freshman leading scorer at Michigan State.  She can really put the ball in the basket.  We played her at the four spot.  But she's been very good in practice at creating for other people.  So she not only can do some things for herself, but I think she does a great job of getting other people involved.

 

Q.  Looking at last season, what would you say was the most challenging part of it and how have you seen the players grow from that?

COACH MERCHANT:  Well, it's kind of the opening statement that I made.  I mean, I felt like our best offensive team was probably our worst defensive team, and our best defensive team was our worst offensive team, and that was a challenge.  It made it hard to come into every game and kind of have a good feel for what it is you need to do.

Certainly you have to stop people.  We put a priority on defense.  But, you know, if you can't put the ball in the basket, you're not going to win too many games either.  I think last year's lesson was that we needed to create a situation and recruit kids that we feel like can come in here and enhance the kids that we already have, really have a good balanced attack at both ends of the floor.

 

Q.  You mentioned physical play in the post.  How is Allyssa (DeHaan) different now than last year?

COACH MERCHANT:  Well, I think she had a great summer with Team USA (two summers ago).  That was certainly something that was an honor for her to be able to compete for her country.  But because she didn't have that this summer, it really gave her an opportunity to have two things happen.  I talked to her about this.  I think she needed to make sure she had a well-rested mentality, that she took time to get her body strong again, and at the same time also have the ability to get in the gym and not get out of shape.

For her this summer, it was about balance.  That experience was so great, but she wasn't in the weight room.  This year she's doubled her bench press in the off-season.  Her weight is up, and it's significant, which is a good thing.  I think you're going to see a healthier, stronger, more active Allyssa DeHaan.  Plus our depth will allow her to get better rest time so she can go out there and play for an extended period and give everything she has, then come off and sub her out.

 

Q.  In the little bit I saw from Courtney (Schiffauer) during Midnight Madness, her aggressiveness, is there any way you can have her and Aisha on the floor at the same time?  Also, do you think about not playing Aisha during the exhibition games, considering what happened?

COACH MERCHANT:  No.  You got to look at the eye of the tiger.  Whatever happens, happens.  I don't think she's (Aisha) in a position to think about that.  I think she's in a position to play hard, take this team where she needs it to go.

Yes, I mean, the winning thing about Schiffauer is she can be a three and a four, which kind of lends to I feel like we're very versatile.  We have Taylor Alton who can be a four and a three.  We have Brittney Thomas who can be a one and two.  Kal (Kalisha Keane) can be a three and a four.  I think you're going to see our ability.  We don't have to have a certain lineup, a true five in there at all times.  We don't.

 

Q.  Last year one of the big things you talked about was production at the two spot.  Can you talk about what the girls at that spot did in the off-season and how do you plan to get more from your outside game?

COACH MERCHANT:  Well, that was the whole point of getting in the gym and shooting, especially in particular the guards.  You know, there's only one way to have confidence in yourself, and that's to get in the gym and shoot.  And it's repetition.  When you're in the gym shooting lots of shots, getting repetition, then it becomes second nature, it's instinctual.  When that happens, great things happen.

You can't be a good shooter and think about it.  You have to be a good shooter and know what you can do night in and night out.  I feel like Mia Johnson is someone who has had a great summer.  I think she's made herself faster, stronger.  Like we talked about Aisha, but (Mia) was maybe 60% when she started, maybe 70 when she finished the season.  I mean, she was like a mere shell of the player I think she can be.  She has the ability to knock shots down from the perimeter.  Mandy (Piechowski) is that person.  Kalisha now playing that perimeter spot, too, will open some things up for us, too.

Of course, we just spend a lot of time.  When you're shooting a thousand shots a day every day, five days a week, that's a lot of shots going off.  That's paying off.

 

Q.  If you had to start a lineup tonight, would it be Brittney, Mia, Aisha, Kalisha and Allyssa?  Is that your five?

COACH MERCHANT:  Probably.  I think you start there.  Depending on who's playing well in practice, who's giving effort, who's not, you can make adjustments.  I certainly feel like, you know, that's a good starting point.

 

FastScripts by ASAP Sports

 

Assistant Coach Rick Albro

 

On the excitement that surrounds the start of the season...

We are excited to get started and excited about the possibilities. It all comes down to being able to take care of things on game-night. Our freshmen got a tremendous amount of experience last year, so we are young, but we are a very experienced young.

 

On having the opportunity to work with the student-athletes...

For the season to be able to kick off last Friday is really exciting for a coach. Now to have the opportunity, six days a week, to work with them and to have film and finally have the chance to do all of that is great. We didn't have the hours, we are so limited and our hands are tied with what you can do with them, because the hours that you do get, you want them on the court. Now, we have the hours, so the girls can come in and learn from their mistakes and from someone that is doing it right.

 

On the accomplishments from last season...

I think the fact that we were able to accomplish, in terms of the win-loss column, what we were able to accomplish is major kudos to coach Merchant and the young ladies that persevered all season. All of this is now a year old, so now we can start putting in new things and we have tremendous depth and versatility and with that we are able to change things a little and add a few new things. We want to get at it a little bit more this season. We want to score off of our defense. Last year, we had to play not to lose, this year we look at it, as a staff, to where we can be more aggressive and play to win.

 

On advancing to the WNIT Championship last season...

There were only four teams that played in that final game, the two in the NCAA final and two in the NIT. Our kids have gone through that now, so they can draw upon those experiences and share them with the freshmen, and even next year's freshmen.

 

On Alyssa DeHaan...

I think that mentally and physically, she is better than she has ever been. Alyssa is a fantastic individual, she is a pre-med major with a 3.6 grade-point-average. With this young lady, her health takes a back-seat to basketball and academics. We are trying to change that, she is heavier than ever and she feels good about it. She is becoming a student of the game. One of the things that she shared with me last year was that she wanted to improver her basketball IQ. I think she is doing that. I think that she is excited about the defensive and offensive things that we are putting her in right now.

 

Senior Guard Mia Johnson

 

On the expectations for the team...

Out No. 1 goal is for us to get back to the NCAA Tournament. We don't have a chip on our shoulder, but there is something there that is willing us to get back there. I would really say that the NCAA Tournament and the Final Four in St. Louis is our main objective, I wouldn't mind going back there. I'm a senior and I'm in a great place at Michigan State and I love my team.

 

On this being her last season with MSU...

The biggest thing for me, personally, is being around my teammates and being that seasoned veteran and seeing the freshmen and sophomores grow and develop. On and off the court, I would like to develop into a leader that everyone on the team can look up to. We have really worked on playing as a team. We need to work together and work together as a team. We are starting to find our chemistry and we are beginning to run a lot more. Personally, I have just been working on my outside shooting.

 

Redshirt Junior Center Lauren Aitch 

 

On last year's season compared to this year...

Last year it was a one game swing. There are so many games you could go back to and say that we should have won that game. For some reason, we just weren't doing what we should have been doing and if we had, that could have put us in the NCAA Tournament. This year, our outlook is that we should go in and play to win every game. Every game is important. Last year we lost track of that a little bit with the new coaches and a new system.

 

On playing in the WNIT...

The WNIT is not where anyone wants to be because you are playing for 65th place. It was really hard for coach to come in there and get us riled up and ready to play in the tournament but it helped that all of our games were at home so that all of the fans came to our games. This year we have more depth and more strength so we are hoping to get further.

 

Redshirt Junior Forward Aisha Jefferson

 

On getting back into the game...

It took a while for me to get my confidence back. I just kept having that thought in my head that if I do certain things I am going to get hurt. I think that I am very confident with where I am right now with my knee. I am in a good place.

 

On the relationship between the coaches and the team...

I just think that coming off of a winning postseason helped us to keep moving forward and improving. We know the coaches a little bit better. We have very high goals this year for the Big Ten and the national championship. It was a big trust issue and just getting used to the coaches took all year for us. But now we are all on the same page. Everyone understands where the coaches are coming from and the relationship with the coaches is a lot better this year.

 

On her role in the team last year compared to this year...

It was difficult just wanting to be out there competing with my team. It's really hard to not be able to show how hard you worked in the preseason. I think that I became a student of the game and I understand things a lot better this year. I think I learned a lot and was able to give my teammates a different perspective on the game. I had a chance to sit down and see how the players play and see things you can't normally see when you are in the game so I could point out things for everyone to improve on.

 

Junior Center Allyssa DeHaan

 

On how much she benches...

Maybe 120. I'm trying to remember what I benched. In the summer we maxed out until you could go no longer and I did 13 or 14 reps. I feel so much stronger and I think I look huge compared to six months ago.

 

On her weight gain...

I think it will be a key factor in rebounding and being able to hit back with the big girls in the paint and not get so tired out. It takes a lot of energy to keep posting up constantly and all that body to body contact. I put on about 15 pounds since last spring so I think that is going to help me a lot.

 

On the difficulty of gaining weight...

It's very difficult. This is me getting back to what I should have been and what I start off each season. As the year progresses I slowly lose it. I think we have a system where hopefully I can maintain it. I meet with a nutritionist once a week, I worked on my eating habits and they lessened my cardio and geared it more towards lifting, building and strengthening. I think all those combined will help me maintain energy and weight.

 

On the summer...

It helped put my mind in the right set. I had to get caught back up with school and I didn't want to go back into the season feeling burnt out. The summer was relaxing for the first couple of months and we got right back into it at the end of June, beginning of July, and we've been motivated ever since.

 

Junior Guard Jasmine Holmes

 

On the team's goals this season...

The goals that the team has are to play hard and work hard. Obviously our main goal is to win the championship and we need to do whatever it takes to get there. We have been working hard, we had a good summer of practice and everyone is on the same page. We have a pretty good team. We have experience coming back and we brought in three good people that will help as well.

 

Junior Guard Mandy Piechowski

 

On the adjustments that the team made last season...

I would have to say that we definitely understand Coach Merchant's system by now. Before, there was so much going on and they couldn't get positives out of us. Even in the first few games we were confused, but now we have that leadership and we only have three true freshmen and even they are getting into the system. Our big thing is to either be with the system or don't be with it, and so far, we are all with it. We have a positive atmosphere and great practices and we are excited to get the season going.

 

On advancing to the WNIT Championship game...

It helped us. The year before, we only won one game in the NCAA Tournament, so most of us did not have that experience of playing in a long tournament-type situation where you are having short practices and very intense games that are going to the buzzer; it was a great run for us. Looking back, we do feel that that was a better experience for us. Anything that we put our minds to, we can do this season having been through that.

 

Sophomore Forward Kalisha Keane

 

On the expectations for the upcoming season...

With any team, you want to go out and win the Big Ten Championship. Also, with the tournament being here, we want to be able to have home-court advantage and advance as far as we can in that. Once you are in the tournament, there is the mentality that anything can happen on any given night.

 

On hosting the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament...

It really shows how our fans are so supportive. We have been in the top-10 in attendance for so many years, and that is an amazing thing. We have great facilities here and it will give us a chance to showcase that a little bit and it is a great honor to be hosting and it will be even better to play in it.

 

On the progression that the team has made under Coach Merchant...

I think we have a very good understanding of who we are and what we do. I think with Coach Merchant having a year under her belt, she also has a better grasp of who we are as well. Everything was really new last year, and we now have a lot of experience. When things are new, there are a lot of unknowns, but now we know what to expect and what we can push out of each other this season.

 

Sophomore Guard Brittney Thomas

 

On what Aisha Jefferson does for the team...

Last year we all thought she made an impact on the team and she didn't even play. She was always on the bench or in the locker room telling us what we were doing wrong. She is just someone that you respect and when she tells you that you did something wrong you don't take offense to it, you just try to fix it.

 

On Alyssa DeHaan...

She has gotten a lot stronger. She has a lot more definition this year. I have gotten to know her a lot better as a person this year, which in my opinion, always helps on the court. If you know a little bit about what's going in there head you can help out a little bit on the court as well.

 

On what she is looking forward to this season...

Our entire dynamic as a team has changed in a good way. It's scary the type of things that we can do. I think I am just really excited to see that in a game atmosphere.

 

Sophomore Forward Cetera Washington

 

On how the team has changed in the offseason...

The team this year spends a lot more time together and we have a lot more chemistry.

 

On her role on the team...

I think that I will be a rebounding guard. We didn't even come close to where we wanted to be last year and I am hoping that this year we can do that.

 

On what she is looking forward to this year...

I am really looking forward to pushing the ball. We have a great defense and we will be able to run a lot more; pushing the ball up the floor will be exciting.

 

Sophomore Forward Taja Wilson

 

On what she hopes to do for the team...

I am hoping to take what Aisha Jefferson did last year and do it this year for the girls and cheer them on every chance I get.

 

On the strengths of the team as a whole...

We have so many strengths. We have shooters and we are going to be great in the post. We are really deep this year and that is really exciting.

 

On what she is looking forward to this year...

This year I want to recover from my injury and get stronger. Because we are so deep, I am really excited to see how far we can go. All of us are really versatile so it will be very interesting.

 

Redshirt Freshman Forward Lykendra Johnson

 

On what she needs to work on...

I think I need to get used to the team and be a part of it. The big plays, big team, the Big Ten.

 

On the transition from the focus being on her to more of a team focus...

I think the team is always first. I don't put myself before them.

 

On being here last year, but not playing...

I was around them because we lived on the same floor. They kept me updated on what was happening. I was a part of it, but at the same time, I wasn't.

 

On what she brings to the team...

I think I bring a lot of intensity and encouragement, and I put everything out there. I'm blue collar. I try to do my best at everything. There's nothing perfect I can do, but I put my best out there.

 

Freshman Guard/Forward Taylor Alton

 

On the expectations for the upcoming season...

Our goals are to make the tournament and make it deep. We have a cheer that says "Final Four," and we want to make it that far and do well once we get there. I think that as a team we can focus on coming together as a group and gelling with each other. If we can work off of each other and learn how we all play, we can have a great season.

 

Freshman Guard Porschè Poole

 

On playing a vital role...

I'm the back-up point guard. I help Brittney (Thomas) out. I'm prepared to help her out a little bit.

 

On the versatility...

I'm like a slashing guard. I like driving to the bucket. If I get the ball passed to me, I want to take it. I'm also good at passing so I can run a point too. I can handle the ball too.

 

On being quick...

I had to get in shape over the summer. I'm still not there yet, but I'm trying. It's hard and we go hard in practice everyday up and down.

 

On the difference between high school and college...

The speed is faster and the coaches are harder on you. Everything is different.

 

On the level of athletes that come to Michigan State...

I guess we're just lucky to have great athletes come out here. We have a lot of championships and the girls are trying to do that too.

  

Freshman Forward Courtney Schiffauer 

 

On playing for Suzy Merchant...

I like playing for her. She's a tough coach and I am happy to be playing for her.

 

On the relationship between the freshmen...

We get along really well. I think that going into the season everyone on the team is good and we are going to be fighting for playing time. We are all just excited for the upcoming season.

 

On her relationship with Porschè Poole...

When we both signed here we started communicating. We got to be really good friends and we are actually roommates now. We actually joke around about high school now but we get along really well.

 


 

 

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