A Q&A With Coach Jenny Hazelwood

Mississippi State head volleyball coach Jenny Hazelwood talks one-on-one with Gene's Page about next year's volleyball team.

You have improved steadily during your three years at Mississippi State. You are trying to build a foundation that will allow you to be consistent from year to year, correct?
"Absolutely. As a coach, you want to have as much success as you can and you want your team to attain the success you feel it can. But the lessons you learn through the ups and downs are essential to build that foundation that you mentioned. I believe that will help us reach our goal of sustaining a consistent success over a long period of time."

Last year's team was just one win shy of reaching the most wins by an MSU volleyball team. You did that with a lot of young players. So, it appears you are building that foundation for future success.
"You hear people say winning breeds winning, players need to learn how to win. Those things are very true. And I think it is great that we have so many young players on the court who don't look at last season and say the second most wins in our history, that is awesome. To them, that is not good enough. That is what we want. We want a team full of players who want more than that. We finished 6th in the SEC, our highest finish ever. But I have a group of girls who don't think that is good enough. You will never be able to compete for the top spot if you don't have a group of players who want to compete for that top spot..

You are still going to be a fairly young team because all those freshmen will still only be sophomores and you also have several more freshmen on the team next year.
"We signed two freshmen in the early signing period and we have two freshmen who graduated early and have already enrolled. We also have a (mid-term) transfer who will be a sophomore this coming season. We'll also have some others who will be joining them that we can't give specifics on. We'll have a really young roster again with one senior and two juniors. It will be a very, very talented young team."

You are getting the talent in. Now you have to teach them how to be successful as a team.
"Exactly. We have to teach them about the grind of an SEC schedule where everybody is exhausted in late October and November. They have to learn how to deal with that at the highest level. They will get there. it's just going to take experience."

In a way, how your team did last season is exactly what you are referring to. They had early success in the SEC, then tailed off some then came back strong at the end.
"You are right. I think the girls learned that you can't be a high level athlete, then take a break. It's going to be hard on you when you are exhausted. What separates the team who can have success mid to late season are the ones who prepare for the exhaustion. They take care of themselves on the front end. And really, it's the little things with freshmen. Little things such as taking better care of themselves. Get their sleep. Make sure they are eating right. If they aren't doing those things, then they aren't doing the things that will allow them to be high level athletes."

Getting back to the newcomers, do you expect them to play early?
"I do most of them."

What will fans see from them when they watch them play next season?
"One of the biggest things you will see from these girls will be their ball control. Roxanne McVey is a libero who is unbelievable. She is going to make us a lot stronger at that position. Taylor Scott is an outside hitter who could play libero or DS at any other school in the country. She is really, really strong. We are going to have two of our three passers who will be liberos. That is huge for us because everything on your offense stems from being able to pass the ball.

"We are also going to be lightning fast. Sarah Nielsen is very fast. I find myself telling her all the time that she is early. She is so fast that she is early. Taylor Scott is another one who is really fast. Because of that, our offense will speed up a lot.

"We'll also be more physical and taller. We'll look stronger."

You are going into your fourth season and have pretty much transitioned into your style of play because most of the players are your players, players you recruited.
"Every coach has their style of player that they recruit. When I got here in the spring of 2009 there were still seniors to be recruited. And we got lucky with some girls. Channel Baker was going to Austin Peay. We recruited her as a middle there. Then her very last year in club ball she played outside and I thought she could dominate at this level at that position. Now, since she has been here she has started a good number of our matches. We had others from the group that was here when I first got here who were very good players for us. Caitlin Rance became one of the best players that we have ever had in this program. When we first got here she was a fairly average player. But she and the other kids worked so hard and made huge strides. I am glad that they became a big part of our program. Without those kids we wouldn't be where we are today.

"Now, I feel like we are finding more kids who can step in and not have to take several years to develop. But I would take any kid with Caitlin Rance's work ethic. I would tell our kids that the information we are telling them is the same that we were telling her. It doesn't change. She just wants it that bad.

"We have to continue to recruit stronger players each year. When I was a student-athlete here I wanted that, I wanted the kids younger than me to be better than me because I wanted our program to be better. When I was a student-athlete I knew I had to work hard because anybody behind me was trying to take my spot. And I think these girls understand that."

As long as you stay healthy, how much better do you expect next year's team to be?
"We've had a few injuries this fall. But if we do stay healthy, I think it will be a season where we can compete with anybody. It is going to be determined by how well our leaders step up. Our leaders will have to keep them in a good place mentally. I think if we can manage the things that face a young team I think we can have a lot of success.

"It has been my goal since I have been here to not only beat our SEC win total but shatter it. We should be getting more SEC wins than that. So that definitely a large possibility for us."

Talk about your schedule this coming season.
"We go out to USC and play in a tournament. USC was ranked number 1 for a number of weeks last season. One of the other teams in that tournament, UNI, Northern Iowa, was top 10 most of the year. So, that is going to be a tough tournament. We have a home tournament first and we should competitive in that one. Then we go out to USC. It will be difficult but the girls need that because SEC play is not going to be easy either. From there, we have another tournament at Tulane. We should be competitive in it."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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