MSU Volleyball To Open Season Today at 3 p.m.

Mississippi State head volleyball coach Tina Seals sat down with Gene's Page/Dawgs' Bite to discuss this year's team and the expectations she has for it. The volleyball team's season starts Saturday afternoon with a 3 p.m. home match against Southern Miss.

Returning five starters and 2 other letterwinners from a 2004 squad that finished the season 14-16, Mississippi State plays a 26-game schedule that includes 12 home games and 14 road games.


Last year was your first year to coach at State. And you team won 11 more games than the previous year. Did that surprise you?
"I had my own personal goal and it was close to that. But I didn't know if that goal was possible. I hadn't been around the SEC in awhile, so I had no idea what we were about to face. I am used to more wins than that, but after the season was over and I had time to think about the wins and losses, I was really proud of what we did accomplish."

What are your thoughts about this year's team?
"We are very excited because we have been together for a year, except for the few newcomers that we have coming in. Last season, most of the girls got here in August and we had three new coaches, then we played just a few weeks after that. That was a challenge.

"Now, we are really excited because we've had the players for the fall and the spring. With the players getting to know each other and learning our coaching style, I think it will be a fun year and I really look forward to the season."

What are your hopes for this year's team?
"I want to improve from last season. And I really think, with that year's experience under our belt, that we, hopefully, can improve. The girls are working hard, they are loyal, they enjoy being together, they work on their own and do the little extra things that make a champion. I definitely think we will be heading in the right direction this season."

This year's team will be a young group, but you do have a few seniors with a great deal of experience.
"Rachel Cooper, Andrea Mead, Kelly Willinger are our seniors. Cooper has been a leader her previous three years and we expect her to be this year as well. We also have a walk-on senior that is from Southaven (Mississippi), Jamie Cross, who played for me in community college. She plays with heart and was a leader for me."

You have several girls on your team that are from other countries. Are you going to recruit more girls from other countries in the future or is it more of a one time thing?
"Right now, recruiting-wise, we are sort of behind in the game. I knew when I hired Jozsef Forman that I was not only getting an excellent coach, but a coach with recruiting ties to the European countries. We'll need those ties until we can get on top of our American recruiting.

"In a lot of cases, the 11th graders (in the United States) have already committed. So, if you haven't recruited them for a year or two or three, you aren't going to get them. Until we can get involved with those girls, we'll need to supplement (our recruiting) with the European kids."

Talk about each one of your newcomers and the ones you expect to contribute immediately.
"If we run a 6-2 this season, then Eva Kriegel will contribute a great deal. Not only can she set in an attack on the ball, but she can hit as well. Taylor Noland was redshirted last year because she was hurt early in the year. During the spring, when we got short of middles, we moved her there and she did exceptionally well, so we are going to leave her there. I can see her contributing a lot. She's hurt right now, though. Last year, she hurt her shoulder. This year, she turned her ankle. Jamie Cross and Lialah Putman both have excellent skills. Jamie, who is a senior, has been off for a year, so I don't know how that will factor in. But she has a heart like I have never seen before. She'll run through a brick wall for you. Lialah is from Olive Branch, the state champion last season. I'm not sure what position we will put here since she is so versatile. Both of these players were their state's Gatorade Players of the Year. Nicole Palazzo, who was a middle in high school, has the height and athletic ability that we need in the middle, but she needs more experience. But she could start for us as well. I think she will develop into something really good. Cristina Jucan is the last one. I haven't seen her play, but Jozsef has. In one of her tournaments, she was named the Best Hitter, which is a big honor. I really think Eva and Cristina will contribute the most from an experience standpoint."

You have three early tournaments on your schedule. Is there a specific reason for that?
"That's how it is in volleyball. I would love to have two at home, but it's almost impossible to get that many teams to come because everybody is fighting for a tournament on their own campus."

I noticed there is one player called a Libero who wears a different jersey than the other girls. What exactly is the Libero position?
"Internationally, they've had a Libero for awhile. To be more in place with the international rules, the NCAA added the Libero position a few years ago. That's a really great position because they don't have to count as a sub for anybody else. They can run in and out of the back row for anybody. All they have to do is wait one rally, then they can go back into the lineup. Some teams use taller players and some use smaller players. Some teams may have smaller players who aren't tall enough to hit in the SEC, but they have good passing and defensive skills. That gives them a chance for a scholarship as well."

Explain the substitution rule for the players who aren't the Libero?
"You can sub up to a total of 12 (for the non-Libero players). I think it was changed to 15 this year. When you use your 12 or 15 subs, you can't sub anymore. We got into situations last year, due to playing a 6-2, where we ran out of subs. Because of that, we had to be careful who we left in the game."


Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at swindoll@genespage.com.

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