How do you think your team looked this morning in their first practice?
"I think we are further along than the team has been in the past, certainly last year. By training for about 45 minutes this morning I think we got off to a good start. I think that gave us a snapshot of what is to come. Tonight is really the first session. Because of our exam schedule we are kind of caught in between what we can and can't do. The kids need to do well in school. But tonight should be good."
What do you expect to see in the first training session tonight?
"Our entire team has been here the entire summer two. They have been playing pickup soccer together. But they will be training at a different intensity for the first time. You can play a lot of pickup soccer and get a lot out of it but it's never the same as a training session.
"We play Memphis in seven days. So, we have to get into preparing to play immediately. Tonight, we will reflect a little on that. That's what we will do over the next three or four days, then we will get ready to play Memphis.
"This year, we chose to play two exhibition games because we have 19 new players. Playing Memphis and Alabama, who we don't play in the SEC season, will allow us to prepare in a way that we probably couldn't prepare last year.
"I'm excited for all of the players. I think there is an eagerness and an enthusiasm that is really genuine. That is what happens when you have a bunch of young players."
There are so many new players, it's really an all new team. You really don't know what you have in your team. What kind of expectations can you have for a team like that?
"With a young team I think the expectation is learning how to be a SEC soccer player, which means you have to show up everyday and have consistent effort, everyday you have to try to give your best and move on to the next day. You have to grind a little bit. We don't give preparation days like other sports do. Today is the 6th and our first real game is in 16 days. So, for us, we have a big challenge of putting a bunch of people together and try to put the pieces together like it's a puzzle. We'll also try to get out of two-a-days without any injuries."
I know you don't really want to hype any player over the others, but you have one girl, Mallory Eubanks, who was Kentucky's Player of the Year. How good is she?
"Mallory is a talented player. We have a lot of talented players on our team. She comes in as the Kentucky Player of the Year, which might comes with some expectations. But Mallory is one of many who are going to help us. She's going to help us from a creative standpoint. We lost a big-time player, an All-SEC player, in Elisabeth Sullivan. When you lose a player of that quality, you want a quality player coming in and Mallory is a quality player, along with Hannah Smith and Morgan Ferrara. They are new, young players who will provide quality for us this year."
You had a great recruiting year. How do you do that when you are still building a program? How do you convince the recruits to believe in what you have going on at Mississippi State?a
"I think it is like this at any school, you have to go to work, you have to be seen, you have to be everywhere. For us, it's about going to big tournaments and going to small tournaments. We have to cover our bases. We found players who are on the national scene and we found players who may not be on the national scene who are just as good. And we have to be able to find those players.
"This (year's) class is extra big due to losing kids to graduation, to injuries. When you only have seven players returning, you have to go out and sign a big class. We are bringing nineteen in and that means a lot of opportunities for a lot of players. And I think that is why we have a lot of enthusiasm this year. I think everyone sees that they can play somewhere. They think they have a chance to play as a freshman and that's not always the case. When you are a program trying to make a mark in this conference, you need people pushing people every year.
"I tell these years I am going to try to out recruit them in '15 and '16. And if we can do that, then we are going to be a (great) team."
What are some new things that you have worked on to try and develop team chemistry?
"This past spring was hard. We took Shannen Jainudeen , who was a recruited defender and a rising senior, and transformed her into a position upfront because she has some good qualities (for that position). Early on in the spring I think she was a little uncomfortable, a little unsure. Then she scored three goals and thought that maybe she can play that position. I think she has embraced the position. And we need her out there because she has a physical component that we believe will bear some fruit this year, maybe not scoring goals but can set the table for others.
"But just as a team, I think we have tried to make sure as a staff that our investment as a team is team-based and individual based. We are always talking the same language, always talking about what we are trying to accomplish. And that's kind of been our approach. When you have a bunch of young players, you can do that because you have to help mentor them along the way. During the summer, when they got here and were trying to figure it all out that process has been a little easier, and we'll continue to do that I think."
Do you see any kind of sense of urgency from Shannen Jainudeen since she is a senior?
"There is no doubt that every senior has this sense of urgency. It's natural because it's their last year. In our sport it is 80 opportunities. If you come in as a freshman the NCAA gives you 20 games a season at a minimum. Now she is looking back and realizing that she only has 20 games left.
"With Shannon she has embraced being a forward, she has embraced being a certain level of fitness. Despite being sidelined due to injuries that she couldn't control, she's now trying to do everything that she can to give her the best opportunity to play well. Unfortunately for her she is the last one in her class. There are a lot of others in her class who haven't made it due to injuries. She is the only one in her class to make it across the finish line.
"And she has a new role due to being a senior. She's not the most vocal person but being six-foot her presence is there. She is kind of the quiet leader who has taken on that role in a different way than she has in the past. And I'm really excited for her."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.