"We have a lot of returners as far as starting positions. We did lose our two starters outside, at least the ones who ended the season as starters. But I feel (junior) Cristina Jucan, who started the first part of the season, is, basically, a returning starter. She's an exceptional athlete who should have no problem stepping back into her starting role. She's fun to watch play from a fan standpoint and a fun player to coach.
"Other starters coming back from last year are (senior) Eva Kriegel who is a dynamic, exceptional player. She can do anything and is our playmaker, our quarterback. She's a three-year starter.
"Opposite her, we have (senior) Jamie Joyner who will be a four-year starter. She's a very steady person on the court who helps things run smoothly. You can depend on her day in, day out.
"In the Middle Block position we have returner (senior) Lauren Kowal, who was a starter last year before she was injured. She had an ACL problem. Her knee's not quite healed, so we are taking it easy with her.
"(Senior) Erin Seago, who will be a four-year starter, is another Middle Block position returner. She is another leader on the court. She's nursing an injury after having surgery on her foot in May. She was released from that, but came back this summer and got a stress fracture on the same foot. Because of that, she has been out of most of the pre-season and is now just getting back.
"(Senior) Megan Lukasek will be a four-year starter starter in the Libero position. She's been out the entire pre-season due to a back injury but is now coming back. She's a fireball on the court and is the leader on our defense because she knows how to make it click.
"(Sophomore) Ioana Demian, the other Outside Hitter, was a freshman last year. She ended up playing in the Middle at the end of last year and gained experience there. Now, she just needs to transition to the outside.
"(Sophomore) Dorey Gray, with Eva being injured and missing a lot of the pre-season with her back, has stepped in and filled that role. And she's done a great job of filling Eva's role. She runs our play-sets very well, so she's been a valuable addition in that area.
"(Sophomore) Jennifer Hauskey, another fireball on the court, works hard and is one of our top servers. While she will help us out in a lot of areas, her specialty is her serving ability."
What are your thoughts about your incoming freshmen?
"We have five true freshmen and one redshirt freshman.
"Stefanie Joyner, Jamie's sister, was out last year due to an injury she had prior to coming here. And her injury is still prevailing so she won't be able to play this year due to that injury.
"Ashley Newsome, who has been a huge force on the court in pre-season practices, will contribute immediately. She has been a pleasant surprise. I knew she was an athlete, but I didn't know how she would start off. But her work ethic and attitude have been so good she has blossomed. She has been playing the Middle position, but we would like to move her outside. But she'll start in the middle at the start of the season because Lauren and Erin can't go a full match right now. As soon as they get healthy, Ashley will be moved outside and give us depth at those positions. We look for great things from her.
"She's from my high school (Florence High School). I even coached her in club. Actually both (MSU assistant coach) Chris (Cothran) and I have coached her. Another neat thing about that is I have connections to the three coaches from Florence last year. The head coach played with me, the assistant coach played for me in college and the volunteer assistant coach was my coach in high school.
"We also brought in Meaghan Schlueter who will end up being a great blocker for us. She really makes her A side work hard because they have to learn to work around that huge block which is a normal SEC block. We expect to use her on the right side this year.
"We also have three walk-ons - Miranda Bauman, Kaitlin Wheatley and Kayla Woodard.
"We expect Miranda will develop into a player, although she may not get a lot of playing time this year. Kaitlin is a very hard worker, a very positive player. Although she's getting a lot of reps in practice, she's playing behind Dorey and Eva. She possibly could contribute on the court either as a defensive or setter's area this year. Kayla will probably get playing time in a defensive role behind Megan and Jen."
What are your goals for this season?
"Our goals are always to improve each year and make it to the NCAA. But with the injuries that we have had, I guess our top goal this year is to stay healthy. One injury here or there can determine how we do."
Improving each year has been something that you definitely have done. How close are you to the goal of making it to the NCAA?
"We were one short of making it last year. Seven SEC schools were invited to the NCAA playoffs and we were team eight. Two matches that we lost could have gone a different way if we hadn't had a couple of injuries. Lauren tore her ACL the weekend before a match. And Ioana fell down some stairs on the way to play an opponent, so we had to shift the lineup immediately with no practice. And she was out for the rest of the season. Those two injuries both came at crucial points of the season. If we hadn't had those injuries I really feel strongly we would have been at the NCAA playoffs and moved up higher in the rankings. However, there were some games we won that, maybe, we shouldn't have. It all evened out, but we were closer."
Is your program about where you want it to be going into your fourth season?
"I do feel like we have taken a step forward every year. Of course, I would like to be sitting here talking about making the NCAA Tournament last year, but it does take awhile to build a program. I do feel like we have been successful and have met a lot of our goals. But I will never be satisfied.
"And honestly, I don't just want on-the-court victories. I also want off-the-court victories and we've seen a lot of those as well. Last spring, we had the highest GPA ever in volleyball, over 3.4."
You've also added a new coach to your staff, Don Perkins.
"We feel honored that we have Don on our staff. The greatest thing is he's a team player. He has also taken over our defense on the court. I feel like we have already improved defensively since last season. He will also have the Middle Blockers as his responsibility. He also helps out tremendously in the office. He's also going to be in charge of travel, something that I've had to do in the past."
Something that I've noticed about you is you definitely let your coaches coach.
"If I'm not mistaken Bear Bryant had the philosophy that he wanted to bring in people that were smarter than he was as long as they were a team player. I do that now and I did it when I was an engineer. When I would go out and work with all the craft. While some engineers would come in and and lay down the law it was like they were telling the craft they hadn't work there for a number of years. To me, they have experience that I could use and I wanted to take advantage of that skill and experience. I would also tell them how important they were to me.
"Getting back to the coaching, I believe you should surround yourself with good, knowledgeable people. They are also good morals people and the type people I wouldn't mind my daughter playing for. I feel like if you have a staff that has integrity and character, that will rub off onto your players."
Volleyball gets its season underway this weekend with the 2007 MSU/Microtel Classic which will be held at the Newell-Grissom Building Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Friday, August 24
Saturday, August 25
Sunday, August 26
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 emailing email@example.com.