Mississippi State women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer believes his team will be improved this year despite losing three key seniors.STARKVILLE — Vic Schaefer called his wife, Holly, five times. But each time, Schaefer received her voicemail.Texas A&M’s 2012 Sweet 16 matchup with Maryland prevented the assistant coach from visiting Starkville to follow up on the women’s basketball head-coaching vacancy. Instead, Holly flew to campus.Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin courted Schaefer the week before at Hilton Hotel at the William P. Hobby Airport in Houston.“After we decided this is something that could work, I just told them, there’s no way I can do it without you getting Holly there,” Schaefer said.Mississippi State kept Holly from her phone as she scouted the school. When she finally spoke to her husband, the deal was all but done.“Vic, it’s a gold mine, you can win there,” she told him.Four years later, Mississippi State begins Year 4 under Schaefer. The Bulldogs are No. 11 in the country, their highest preseason ranking in school history. They open the season at home against Samford at 5:15 p.m. on Nov. 13.MSU advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year after winning a school-record 27 games and finishing third in the Southeastern Conference. It finished 12th in the AP poll, the best ever in the history of the program.“We’ll keep working hard and try to do what everybody thinks we are going to do,” Schaefer said. “Right now, that’s all it is. We have to live it.”Schaefer inherited the team when it finished 14-16 and had one player over 6-foot-3 after the 2011-12 season. His first recruiting class added 6-foot-5 center Chinwe Okorie and 6-1 power forward Breanna Richardson. Last year, he added Ketara Chapel in the post, and 6-7 Teaira McCowan will debut for the Bulldogs this season.“You can’t be physical, to me, if you don’t have the frames to be physical,” Schaefer said. “Right now, when we get off the bus I think we look like an SEC team. That’s a big piece to the puzzle.”Victoria Vivians brought it all together.The first call Schaefer made as Mississippi State’s head coach was to Vivians’ high school coach, Chad Harrison at Scott Central.“We’re rolling down the runway and I’m talking to Chad on the phone until we got up in the clouds and I lost contact with him,” Schaefer said.Vivians averaged 13.8 points per game last year to lead all SEC freshmen and earned Second-Team All-SEC honors. She returns this season as a preseason First-Team All-SEC pick.“Every day is a day to get better,” Vivians said. “I’m working on my game all-around.”Vivians shot 36.8 percent from the field last year and 32.7 percent from 3. Every day the sophomore went to the gym, she didn’t leave until she made 500 shots. On a good day, that meant about 600 shots.“You don’t have any guarding you, so it’s gotta be high 70 (percent shooting) or low 80s,” Vivians said.Vivians is one of three returning starters for Mississippi State. Morgan William didn’t start last year, but finished third on the team in scoring and fourth in minutes at the point guard position.The Bulldogs were picked to finish third in the SEC this season. Some have MSU projected as high as the No. 6 team in the country.Schaefer envisioned those expectations as realities four years ago.“I think we have a chance,” Schaefer said. “But right now that’s all we’ve got.”Contact Michael Bonner at [email protected] Follow @MikeBBonner on Twitter.