There was a ground swell of emotional support from Mississippi State fans last week for women’s basketball coach Nikki McCray-Penson, as MSU announced on Oct. 12 that she would be stepping away from coaching to focus on health issues. We certainly wish McCray-Penson and her family our best wishes in facing the health challenges that have led to her decision to step down.
How will this unexpected coaching change affect the expectations for the women’s basketball team for the 2021-22 season? The Bulldogs didn’t receive any votes in The Associated Press Top 25 women’s college basketball preseason poll released Monday. Ole Miss netted one vote for the Top 25, but MSU received none. Are expectations that low?
Well, I’ve got a lock on what Bulldog Women’s Basketball fans can count on this season.
On Nov. 1, the MSU women’s basketball team will play an exhibition match at Humphrey Coliseum against Mississippi College. Eight days later, MSU’s season officially begins as the Bulldogs will host the Alabama State Hornets in nonconference play. Southeastern Conference play begins Dec. 30 as the Bulldogs play host to the Florida Gators. The SEC Tournament runs from March 2-6.
There you go. That’s the extent of what we know to expect…. Maybe we get the “Reply hazy…try again later” from the Magic 8-ball on this team’s future. Some were expecting a bounce-back season following the 10-9 (5-7 SEC) record of last season, given that McCray-Penson brought in a group of very talented transfers in the offseason and an experienced core of Rickea Jackson and Jessika Carter remained in place from last season.
No, really…. what can we expect to see?
A new coach announced soon
With the official statement that McCray-Penson would be stepping down, MSU also announced the beginning of a national coaching search to fill the head coaching position and tabbed Doug Novak as interim head coach. Novak had just joined the team in September as an associate head coach, but he has not coached women’s basketball at this level previously.
Athletic director John Cohen faces a tough timing challenge in identifying a pool of quality coaching candidates just before the season starts. Other pundits have identified several possible candidates for the job, so I won’t try to replicate their speculation here. I do, however, think Cohen will hire a new coach before SEC play starts.
A talent-rich team
Coach Vic Shaefer left a pretty full cupboard of high-caliber players in Starkville, Mississippi, when he departed for Austin, Texas, in April 2020. With the hire and first season of McCray-Penson, and the impacts of the pandemic, the previous basketball season was definitely different—the roster did start forming for the team she wanted to put on the court. She did bring in several transfers that could make immediate impacts.
Starkville gives great fan support to MSU women’s basketball, and this Bulldogs roster is primed for immediate success. Starkville’s Got Talent—what coach can be brought on to push the team to give maximum effort? Let’s hope that coaching hire (and this season’s team) surprises us all. I can’t wait for November for the story to begin to play out.