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The Ball’s in Their Court

As the final buzzer sounded on Feb. 3, senior center Kelli Roehrig looked up to see the scoreboard and couldn’t help but smile. The 101-40 game marked another win for the Spartans.
[bball2] It was only three years ago on this date that MSU fell to Indiana 67-55 in front of a dismal crowd in Bloomington, Ind. During Roehrig’s freshman year and Joanne P. McCallie’s second season as head coach, MSU entertained a mere 1,500 fans.
Four years later, with a 19-3 overall record, MSU now averages 5,200 fans a game and has been thrust into the national limelight.
“The amount of community involvement has grown so much from my first year here, it’s really like night and day,” Roehrig said. “To have all these people here; we really appreciate all the support.”
The atmosphere around women’s basketball has changed tremendously, junior guard Lindsay Bowen added. “A lot of younger girls come to the games, which is definitely a positive change. More people approach me and my teammates outside of the court now as well.”
When Coach McCallie came to MSU in 2000, she wanted to do for women’s basketball what Tom Izzo did for the men: turn them into a national powerhouse. However, McCallie realized upon arrival that taking MSU to the next level would require dramatic change and several years to see results.
This season, the vision McCallie had four years ago could not be clearer. The Spartans, who jumped out to an astonishing 8-1 in their first nine games, hold a No. 10 national ranking, the highest of any Michigan women’s basketball team ever.
Besides hiring coaches Al Brown and Semeka Randall from Tennessee as assistants, McCallie also upgraded recruiting with four current players either winning or being runners-up for Michigan’s Miss Basketball Award. McCallie’s philosophy demands her players be assertive and accountable for their actions on and off the court. “She’s a very intense person in coaching and life,” Roehrig said. “She’s a great, compassionate coach with a lot of passion for what she does and we owe a lot to her.”
Roehrig, along with guard Kristin Haynie, is part of a senior class that has amassed the most wins in women’s basketball history with a current tally of 77, a record that can only stand to increase by the end of the year. Of these winning games, Roehrig has played in all of them and Haynie has played in all but two due to a hand injury earlier in the season. “I think we’ve really grown this year, and we realize what it takes to be a great team,” Roehrig said.
Each member of the women’s basketball team has learned they play a vital role in the team’s success. “It’s amazing,” freshman forward Melissa Smalls said, “not only to be on such a great playing team, but also the people involved, they are nothing short of incredible.”
Smalls is right. Even though it’s only the beginning of February, what MSU has done thus far has been spectacular. In addition to having a high national ranking and being on the verge of their third straight NCAA tournament berth, the Spartans handed annual powerhouse, the University of Connecticut, its worst home loss in nearly 14 years by defeating them 67-51 on Dec. 29. MSU has gone from a 6-10 Big Ten record with a ninth place finish in 2001-2002 to their current 8-2 and third place standing.
Previously MSU has captured only one Big Ten title, finishing in a three-way tie with Illinois and Purdue during the 1996-1997 season. No Spartan team has ever advanced past the second round of the NCAA tournament, a pattern which this year’s team hopes to break. The team is aiming to win the Big Ten and NCAA championships, Smalls said. “The capabilities and possibilities are sky high and completely up to us. We decide how far we will go and what we will be. In my mind, we are already champions; we just need to prove it.”
[ladyb] The success of the women’s basketball team has helped bring much needed appreciation for female sports, just in time for National Girls and Women in Sports Day, which was on Feb. 9. “I think our success has definitely helped shed some light on women’s sports,” Roehrig said. Bowen agrees it has been a very positive change for female sports. “[Women’s] basketball has come a long way. It’s more physical, demanding and up-tempo. I think most of the stereotypes have been eliminated, but not completely.”
With the NCAA tournament approaching, the Spartans are playing some of their best basketball yet and are ready to make a run for the Big Ten title. And, most importantly, they are ready to do it as a team. “The ‘pick-me-ups’ we give each other on and off the court really show the support we have for each other. It motivates you and makes all your hard work worth it,” Smalls said. “I believe we will just continue to get better and better and show everyone what MSU basketball is all about.”

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