It was not too long ago that women’s hoops was overlooked. Nobody cared, the team wasn’t winning, and all the focus was on Men’s hoops, baseball, and football.
That has completely changed.
Vic Schaefer came to Starkville almost exactly 5 years ago and has built Mississippi State into a national power.
The hiring of Vic Schaefer back on March 16, 2012 has completely changed the entire basketball program and the way fans of the Maroon and White feel about women’s hoops.
Year one of a rebuilding program had struggles. Schaefer led State to a 13-17 record and an 11th place finish in the conference. But, Schaefer had a vision to bring Mississippi State to new heights and he was not going to let a rough debut season to knock his confidence.
On September 23, 2013, Schaefer and the Bulldogs landed the program’s biggest recruit ever. Victoria Vivians - a 6-foot 5-star guard from Scott Central High School - bought into the Texas native’s vision to turn around a program, choosing Mississippi State over established programs like Florida, Kentucky, and Louisville.
Per Vivians’ article in The Player’s Tribune:
The first three schools had more NCAA tournament appearances. And Mississippi State had had a losing record in the SEC and had missed the NCAAs that year.
But Mississippi State had one thing that none of the other teams could offer me.
In the end, it came down to family.
Schaefer got his 5-star program-changing superstar in the 2014 recruiting class and Vivians joined a family that she has gotten to make numerous life-lasting memories with.
In his second season, Schaefer coached the Bulldogs to a 22-14 record and a trip to the WNIT Quarterfinals. But the goals were much higher. The goal was to make history in Starkville like he did when he was the Associate-Head Coach of the 2011 National Championship winning Texas A&M Aggies.
With Vivians in the fold and his philosophies installed for two previous seasons, Vic Schaefer led Mississippi State to a 3rd-place SEC finish and a berth in the 2015 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament as a 5th-seed before falling in a tight game against 4th-seeded Duke in Durham. By this time, the program caught the fan base’s attention and the support grew to levels women’s hoops had never seen in Starkville.
It has only kept rising.
Schaefer has built Mississippi State into one of the elite programs in all of women’s college basketball. After reaching the Sweet Sixteen for only the second time ever last season before falling to the dominant UConn Huskies, the 5th-year coach and his talented team started their season with a 20-0 record, including a win over 8th-ranked Texas in front of a sellout crowd in The Hump. Mississippi State dropped three of their last five games before the tournament - including a heartbreaking loss to South Carolina in the SEC Tournament Championship - but earned the program’s first ever 2-seed in The Dance.
Vivians is not the only star of that program-changing 2014 recruiting class.
The 5-star got all the hype, and rightfully so, but an undersized 5-5 point guard from Birmingham has become one of the most important players to ever play in the program.
Morgan William was under-recruited, rated a 3-star by ESPN, and was told that she was too small to play point guard in the SEC.
Man, has she proved them wrong.
The junior guard has had quite the career thus far: breaking school records for career assists and free-throws made this season. But, it was Sunday’s performance in front of a national audience in primetime television against one of the sport’s best programs that has cemented herself in Mississippi State history.
In the women’s first ever Elite Eight appearance, the Bulldogs were set to face Oklahoma City’s top-seeded team, Baylor - a program that was coming off of three consecutive Elite Eight trips the three previous seasons and a national title win in 2012.
William showed out on the big stage.
Morgan William in the biggest game in MSU W Hoops History:— TruMaroonNation (@TruMaroonNation) March 27, 2017
-(6/8 from 3)
One of best performances ever. pic.twitter.com/CDUAcVzbX4
From her buzzer-beating three at the end of the opening quarter, “Itty-bitty” played her heart out the entire game. William controlled the tempo of the game and was never flustered, despite the numerous lead changes and many twists and turns throughout the intense battle. She was finding open teammates on her way to 7 assists, she took over the game by scoring 41 points against the nation’s 12th best scoring defense, and - most importantly - she showed she is among the elite floor generals in the land by taking great care of the ball as she did not record a single turnover during the course of a high pressured game.
Simply put it: Morgan William is big time.
The day after her dad passed away three years ago, William poured out in emotion after the biggest win in the program’s history.
Three years ago yesterday, Morgan William's dad died.— ESPN (@espn) March 27, 2017
Tonight, she scored 41 to lead her team to the Final Four. https://t.co/T5uVlMVzSy
The emotional superstar was in tears as she proclaimed “this was for him”. The man who helped her defeat the odds of being a premier Division-1 point guard at only five-foot-five.
"I just wish he could be here to see this."— NCAA Women's BKB (@ncaawbb) March 27, 2017
Morgan William honors her stepfather, Donnie Rory, who passed away three years and one day ago. pic.twitter.com/5GL6b7Xp9t
Scoring the most points by an SEC Player in the Women’s Basketball Tournament ever, her brillant play in the program’s biggest ever will be remembered as one of the greatest performances in Mississippi State history - of any sport. Up there with Darryl Wilson’s Sweet Sixteen versus UConn, Dontae Jones in the ‘96 Elite Eight, Hunter Renfroe in the 2013 College World Series, and Dak Prescott’s 2014 LSU game that put Mississippi State football on the map. Perhaps, it was even better.
Up next? UConn. The gold standard of the sport. The program that has won the most conseuctive game in college basketball history - men’s or women’s.
They said Mississippi State can not be an elite program. They said Kelsey Plum would be too much to handle. They said that Baylor has too much depth, size, and experience. They laughed at the thought of Mississippi State breaking through and getting to the Final Four. They say that UConn cannot be beat.
It’s time to prove them wrong once again.
Behind a strong coach that has visions of winning national championships, a 5-star superstar that took a chance on a school that has treated her like family, and a fearless leader that impresses in more ways than one, there is no limit to what this program can achieve.