MSU Volleyball Coach Jenny Hazelwood

Mississippi State Head Volleyball Coach Jenny Hazelwood talks one-on-one with Gene's Page about this year's volleyball team.

What are your expectations for your returning players?
"We have a few returning players, and they are young. We only have one senior and the rest are sophomores. But a number of the sophomores started all of last year as freshmen. Due to that, we do have experience returning.

"Our senior is Dani McCree. She has really matured a lot as a player and has a really good understanding of the game. She has worked really hard, especially in this off-season, to become a really solid outside hitter. The confidence that she has going into the season is really high, and that is exciting.

"Roxanne McVey is among our group of sophomores. She is an all-star, a great, great volleyball player. She was freshman All-SEC this past year. She broke two SEC records. Most SEC athletes can go an entire career and not break an SEC record. And she broke two her freshman year. She is super passionate about the game. That is something that you can't teach.

"Another sophomore is Taylor Scott. She started her entire freshman year. She did some good things as a freshman and developed a ton this past off-season. She is a 6th rotation player who can do a lot of good things in the back row and the front row. She has always been a great player and a great athlete. Now she has to find ways to be a more effective hitter, find ways to make kills against really strong defenses.

"We also have Alex Warren who played a ton in the fall. She's an unbelievable athlete who is one of the most gifted players on our roster. She has worked hard on getting used to the speed of the game. And she has come a long way from the fall to now. It will be exciting to see how she continues to progress.

"Katie Enright is another sophomore who saw significant playing time. But she had some injuries in the fall and was out for awhile. She is another good all-around athlete who did some good things when she was in there. She is a very, very smart player who has a good understanding of the game. When she is in a practice or in a game she brings a lot of knowledge to the court.

"The other returner is Ellen Stuart who transferred in last spring. She is one of the most positive players that I have been around. She is a good volleyball player, a good defensive player, works hard, really energetic. One of the great things that she brings is her enthusiasm. When we got Ellen we not only added a really good player to help us be a strong, strong defensive team but a player who adds enthusiasm."

Of the newcomers, two are transfers, Kelsey Stommes and Katlyn Mataya. What do you like about them?
"Kelsey is a middle blocker who is super quick and really good off of one foot. And she is really competitive. We like that a lot about her. I think she is someone that brings college level experience to our roster. She can really hold her on. She will give us strength and experience that we need in the middle blocker position. We need that because the rest of our middle blockers are very young.

"Katlyn is a setter who transferred in from the state of Washington. She is a fireball. She is a great setter who has great location, very athletic, can run an offense. One of the other things we love about her is her fire. When she is on the court she is very enthusiastic and brings a lot of excitement to the game. I feel that setters need to be that kind of leader. Both of the setters that we have have that kind of personality."

The other newcomers are all freshmen. Going down the roster, the first one is Kimmy Gardiner.
"Kimmy can play either outside hitter spot. I think we project her playing on the right side because she is really dominant there. She is an outstanding all-around volleyball player. She is great with passing and with defense. She is a great offensive player. She can put a ball away; she's a terminal attacker. She is 6-foot-2 but her wingspan is better than that."

The next freshman on the roster is Kaitlyn Schoeppner. She is 6-foot-4 tall. I remember when we first talked a few years ago you were looking for athletic, tall girls. With Kaitlyn you have that.
"If you look at your roster you see more of that this year. We added a ton of height this year. Kaitlyn, who goes by the nickname Shep, is not only tall but very athletic and coordinated. She can play six rotation, she can pass, she can play defense. She is also an offensive option out of the back row."

The third freshman on the roster is Gabi Litwin.
"Gabi, a player from Texas, is a really great, great player. She is a great, great defensive player. And she does all the little things."

Another freshman is Suzanne Horner.
"She is a phenomenal volleyball player. She makes setting look easy. She'll make plays that make you say wow! She's not just a great setter but she's also a strong defensive player. She's also very calm on the court. Not a lot phases her. Because of that, she makes it look so easy. She's also very competitive."

The next freshman is Bali Leffall-Young.
"Her dad is a Mississippi State alumnus. She wanted to come to Mississippi State. Being a California kid (she plays almost year-round so) she brings a lot of volleyball experience. She's also 6-foot-2. I can teach volleyball skills but I can't teach them to be 6-foot-2. We are excited about all that she will bring to our team."

Chelsea Duhs is another freshman.
"Chelsea is a great blocker, maybe one of the best blockers on our team. She is very quick; has great lateral movement. She is going to frustrate opponents because she has really great blocking ability. She is also going to be a strong offensive option as well. It is going to be really exciting to see her develop not just this year but the next few years. I feel she has the chance to be one of the best to have ever played here. She is good!"

The last freshman is Brooke Sassin.
"I don't know how else to say it but to say she is a baller. She has a cannon for an arm; she can really crush it. All of her mechanics are really, really sound. She is another six rotation player that we can set her out of the back row. She knows how to get kills. She is a great volleyball player."

We've mention height. You actually have five girls 6-foot-1 or taller. So, you finally are starting to get height on your team, something that you have been wanting to do.
"Absolutely. In volleyball recruiting you have to start recruiting girls very early. It takes time but we have finally started to get girls that are tall and very athletic. It is very exciting."

You have to have that to win in the SEC, don't you?
"Yes you do. Even other conferences talk about the athleticism in the SEC. When you play in the SEC you are going against super tall, super athletic athletes week-in, week-out. So it is definitely exciting to be able to match that and really go at it."

All of your girls are from out of state. Is the volleyball in Mississippi improving?
"It's getting better. But pretty much all of the girls on our roster have been playing club volleyball since they were 12-years-old. And they play volleyball about 10 months out of the year. These girls are getting all of this experience years before the girls in Mississippi start volleyball. But Mississippi is starting to see younger kids who are great athletes playing volleyball. Volleyball is a highly skilled sport. It needs to be played a lot to help develop that skill."

What are your thoughts about your schedule?
"We try to get a good enough mix with our schedule. Everybody on our schedule can play volleyball. Our kids have to make sure they show up to play every day. But we have a number of matches that we can be highly competitive in. If we play like we should we will be able to build the confidence we need for when we go into SEC play.

"I feel our non-conference schedule sets up pretty well for us. It is a little unique because we are playing a number of those teams twice when they play here. I think that will help this young squad because they won't have to prepare for four teams during a weekend. They can focus on just two teams in a weekend instead."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on sports network. You can contact him by emailing

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