A Q&A With Coach Jenny Hazelwood

Mississippi State head volleyball coach Jenny Hazelwood talks one-on-one with Gene's Page about this year's volleyball team and the upcoming season.

I was going to start off by asking you about this year's team but when I walked into the Newell-Grissom Building I was impressed by how well it looks, especially the new lights that you have in it. It's spectacular looking.
"We were really, really excited when our administration decided to add new lights this year. They were really expensive. We even have spot lights that we can use during the intro so we can spotlight our players."

The lighting really makes it well-lit in here. It makes the floor look like it is brand new even though it's not.
"Yes it does. It actually makes the entire facility seem a lot sharper. I can't thank Mississippi State enough. What they have done tells our girls and the people involved in Mississippi State volleyball how important it is. Due to that, these girls will have even more pride in their sport and play even harder, just as any athlete would."

It seems like each year, the Mississippi State athletic department has added something new to your facility. Going back to the first year you were here, what has been added to your facility each year?
"The first year I was here they did quite a bit to the facility with the floor. We added all the banners inside. Two years ago we got new banners on the building. Now, when fans are in the Junction (next to the football stadium) they can see the volleyball banners on the building and know that is where volleyball is. Last year we added the new scoreboard. They also recarpeted and repainted the locker rooms last year.

"Former athletic director Greg Byrne and (current AD) Scott Stricklin have said that our Olympic sports are important to them. So, they are giving us the resources and facilities that we need to compete in the SEC and on the national level."

Each of the three years you have been the head coach at Mississippi State you have improved the overall team record. And last season you had the most SEC wins, seven, that you have had during your three years here. I assume your expectations for your fourth year is to continue that improvement?
"Yes, we definitely have a stronger all-around volleyball team this year. I feel like we are playing at a higher level of volleyball from day-one than in years past. This year's team are all kids that I have brought in. And they all fit the style and system that I want to play. I think this group of girls is going to surprise a lot of people. I know people may think, since we lost an All-SEC player from last year's team, that we might not be very good this year. But I think we will be a much better all-around volleyball team."

Of your returning players, who do you expect to step up and possibly replace who you graduated last season?
"I think Paris Perret is going to be such a huge part of our offense and running our team in general, not just on offense. She is a great leader. I feel like she has been very dedicated in trying to be the best volleyball player that she can be. When we were scrimmaging at the end of practice I could see a lot of improvement in her from last spring.

"Chanelle Baker is our only senior. We expect her to carry some of the load that an upperclassman should carry. I think she will be a huge part of making everything fit the way we want it to fit. She has to produce offensively. And she has gotten a lot better each of her four years here. I think she is going to have her best season by far.

"Those two returners are a key to this year's team.

"From there, it just kind of breaks down positionally. Lainey Wyman was All-SEC Freshman last year. She worked very hard during the off-season and got better at the things she was weak at as a freshman. She is very dedicated at getting better in volleyball. I think she will continue to impress people with her play."

Looking at your roster there aren't a lot of veterans. You mentioned two, Baker and Perret. Other than junior Dani McCree, the rest of your roster consists of sophomores and freshmen.
"What I think we will see with this team is them doing a lot of good things and then also do some really young-player type things because they are still young. It'll be things like losing matches that we feel like we should have won and maybe winning a match or two that people think we shouldn't. But I do think we are a more talented volleyball team. We are just young. As these young kids get that experience on the court, they will just get better and better. And we will have great kids coming in behind them. The future of Mississippi State volleyball is really, really bright."

Speaking of the young girls, an advantage that two of your true freshmen will have is that they were able to come in last spring due to graduating early.
"Yes they did, both Sarah Nielsen and Roxanne McVey. They both have a semester under their belts. They know how we want them to do things. When we are in pre-season drills I can tell them a couple of things and they can do it. We don't have to stop and explain in detail how we want to do something. That is a huge advantage to them. I don't even look at them as freshmen any longer."

What are your expectations for both of those girls? "I expect Roxanne to be one of the best liberos in the SEC. She makes plays, she is in the right place, she's an outstanding passer. And she is 5-foot-9, which is tall for a libero. That allows her to have more range and cover more ground. She also has a very high volleyball IQ. She is very, very vocal. And I wanted that.

"Sarah, who played club ball with Roxanne, is incredibly fast for a middle. In a spring game last spring, once she got up to speed with the other team, there were times when she would transition to the hit before the other middles knew what was going on."

This is your team, your players. How difficult was it to get to this point recruiting-wise, where you were able to bring in your own players, players who fit what you look for in a player?
"Volleyball is a sport that recruits far in advance. We have been done with the 2013 class for awhile now. Soon, we hope to be done with the junior class. And we are already heavily recruiting sophomores. When I first got here everything was really far behind. Those juniors who we would have been interested in were already close to making their decisions. Due to that, we were having to try and find that diamond in the rough. Chanelle Baker fit that. She is an SEC type player who changed positions very later in her career. She wasn't heavily recruited as a middle but when she moved outside we saw that she could do that at this level.

"Paris Perret, who was recruited fairly heavily, is another one that I believe some schools missed the boat on because she is really good.

"We had to go find those type players and there aren't a ton of them. But now, when we are recruiting the junior and sophomore classes, we are definitely in the top-five to top-three. And that is where you have to be if you want to build your program and be successful."

Your schedule includes three tournaments, then SEC play begins. "Playing the three tournaments is typical for us. At each tournament we have three matches. I'm really glad our schedule is working out the way that it is. Our first tournament is a good one for us because we play some good teams that aren't pushovers. And if we play the way we should and execute, then we should have some success. Then, we go out to USC (in Los Angeles) and play two of the top RRI teams in the country in USC and UNI (Northern Iowa). We wanted a tough tournament like that because the SEC is tough. We wanted to be challenged early so our girls could see what that challenge is like. The three teams in New Orleans are all good teams that have good coaches that know what they are doing and will have their teams well-prepared. We'll have to go into that tournament and play well."

You have two new teams in the SEC, Texas A&M and Missouri. How good are they in volleyball? "Texas A&M was the 16th seed overall in the NCAA tournament last year. They graduated some good players last year but they are still going to be really good this year. We go there and that game is on tv. It will be a good, fun match to play. Missouri was top 30 in the RPI last year. And I think they return a lot of good players this year. So, they will be a tough team to beat this year."

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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