(Photo: USA TODAY Sports)

 

Back-to-back National Championship appearances weigh heavily on the Mississippi State women’s basketball program and the loss of four critical starters add to the pressure to reach expectations that have grown since Vic Schaefer arrived in Starkville.

That’s what makes the offseason that the Bulldogs are experiencing much more crucial and Schaefer has mapped it out well. Going into his seventh season at MSU, Schaefer is embarking on his second tour overseas as the Bulldog team will head to Italy on August 8-18.

Outside of playing some games against out-of-country competition, the team will get a chance to see some of the historic sights.

“I’m excited for our kids,” Schaefer said. “This will be a great education experience for them getting to go to Florence and Rome, go to the Vatican and the Coliseum where the original Olympics were played. You can’t put a value on that,” Schaefer said. “They’ll certainly have some distractions being over there, but I’m not really worried about the wins or losses. I just want to see them play together. It really comes for this team at a really opportune time.”

The chemistry is the most important part of the trip and that’s why Schaefer booked the tour. Schools are allotted a trip once every five years as players are not allowed two trips in their careers.

It just so happens that the Bulldogs were breaking in an experienced group during their last trip in 2015 that included freshmen Victoria Vivians, Morgan William and Blair Schaefer who would be a part of the winningest class in school history.

Schaefer said there is some connection between that group in his current team, but this time he has the luxury of a few veteran leaders who will help bridge the gap. Teaira McCowan, Jordan Danberry and Jazzmun Holmes will bring along a large group of freshmen and a couple of transfers to help get them ready for the season ahead.

“This young group is really talented. They’re going to be great college basketball players and win a lot of games for us over the next few years,” Schaefer said. “They’re the highest ranked class we’ve ever signed here and when you throw (Connecticut transfer Andra Espinoza-Hunter) and (Ole Miss transfer Promise Taylor) into that group, the class would have been ranked in the top five.

“Those kids are going to be expected to play and now they’ve got to go out and earn the time. They’ve been playing really hard.”

Point guard Myah Taylor is technically one of those freshmen after redshirting a year ago, but she got invaluable experience during last season. Taylor helped prep the starters each week as the leader of the scout team and the former five-star trusted in Schaefer’s plan to redshirt her so she would be available for the next four seasons.

Now that she’s finally about to get back on the court and play in meaningful games, she admits to being nervous. She also feels prepared.

“I’m very anxious. Last year was a learning year for me. I was able to learn from Jazzmun, (Morgan William), (Victoria Vivians) and all of the other players. Actually being able to get out there and play a game and run our sets is very exciting and I’m looking forward to it.”

The 10-day trip will include three games for the Bulldogs starting with an Aug. 11 game against Deep 3 Select in Rome at 11:30 a.m. CT. They’ll play Germany team TK Hannover in Florence on Aug 13 at 9 a.m. CT and finish the tour Aug. 16 against International Select in Venice at 11:30 a.m.

The educational and bonding experience is what Schaefer hopes gets this edition molded for another run at a Final Four and SEC Championship.

“We’re really a young team. We’ll be different, but we should be talented and be good,” Schaefer said. “To give these freshmen a chance to be able to practice together is very beneficial. I think it’s an energy boost for all of us. The summer can be a grind. It’s pretty rejuvenating.”