Tina Seals: I think we have come a long way. We started the pre-conference schedule so strong and then hit the SEC, which is so strong and gets better each year.
We have lost a few matches that we should have won and won a few that were very tough to pull out. With six matches left, we feel we have a good chance to end the season on a good note.
Q: What's it like to play for MSU volleyball and then get the privilege to coach at your alma mater?
Seals: MSU will always hold a special place in my heart and always has. I was not only a student here but a student-athlete. I went through engineering school at Mississippi State and they were like family to me, just like the athletic department was like family to me.
I really enjoy being back, now coaching in my third season. It's great to be back and build a program in this athletic department.
Q: How much has college volleyball changed since you played from 1981-84?
Seals: A lot has changed and a lot has changed since I began coaching 15 years ago.
Obviously, the scoring has changed. Now we have rally scoring where somebody scores points. Back a few years, you could only score points if you were serving.
Now we also have libero, which are specialized defensive players. I think having a libero is great. If gives you a special and extra player on the back row like you have on the front row. The libero doesn't have to be a player than can reach 10 feet but a player who has good ball control.
And another change is the players. Like you have AAU basketball and ASA softball, these players are playing all year long. Plus, these players are playing at a higher skill level when they enter the SEC.
Q: On your current roster, it features one senior, four juniors, one sophomore and six freshmen. Talk about having balance on your roster.
Seals: It's very important to have that balance because of the transition from high school to the SEC. It's a dramatic change. The ball comes at you faster and is hit much harder and freshmen always need, well I say most freshmen, a year to adjust. Sometimes a freshman might adjust quicker but they really need that first year to adjust.
Having good balance gives you the luxury of having your upperclassmen around to help lead the way until the freshmen are ready. And we are fortunate to have those upperclassmen for our talented young players.
Q: Speaking of freshmen, talk about the talented Martina Gregusova, who has been honored as SEC Freshman of the Week on two occasions this year.
Seals: She is a very strong player and has a killer instinct. When the game gets tougher, she just hits harder. She is what you call a go-to player and we have a few more. But she stands out because she is a freshman. And she is a player that started late because her paperwork was late getting to us. She missed most of the preseason practices and it took her awhile to get acclimated to America and this culture. And when she finally got ready, she turned her ankle and missed more time. But she has really come on of late and has been a blessing to our team.
Q: Of your roster, there are six international players, Gregusova of Nitra, Slovakia, junior Eva Kriegel and senior Orshi Kriegel of Jaszbereny, Hungary, freshman Ioana Demian of Baia Mare, Romania, sophomore Cristina Jucan of Cluj, Romania and freshman Emily Tooker of Gladstone, Australia. How does international recruiting play a part in your program?
Seals: Even when I was coaching in community college (Northwest-Shoals Alabama), we had international players for various reasons.
At MSU, it's tough to recruit close to home because of the small number of high schools in this state that actually play volleyball. We would love to have all kids from Mississippi and we had two on our roster last year. But we have to look outside of Mississippi, the South and beyond. We want the best players that give us a solid chance at competing in the Southeastern Conference. So we need those international players. With the international players, you have players that have played this sport most or all of their life. They have a lot of ball control and you need that to be competitive in this league.
But probably for the near future, it will be awhile before we recruit that many international players. But they are usually much better than the average American player. We may add one or two more international players or definitely one that is great that can help us right away.
Q: Last year, MSU volleyball made the SEC Tournament and lost in the first round to Tennessee, which eventually made it to the NCAA Tournament's Final Four. With your team in position to make the tournament if there was an SEC Tournament this season, how disappointing is it that the SEC has done away with the SEC Tournament?
Seals: From the standpoint of the team, a goal is to try to move up the ladder and make the SEC Tournament, giving teams something to shoot for. Sure, you still have postseason goals with the NCAA Tournament but the SEC Tournament was the first major step.
We loved it last year when we made it and I hate that we are not having it this season. It was a good experience for our team and for the program in general. It's very disappointing, especially when you have a team improving like ours with a great shot of being one of the eight SEC teams to get invited.
Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Paul, also a sports writer for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.