"We have six returning players.
"Cristina Jucan is our lone senior this year. She started two years ago and played a lot. Then, this past year she was a starter, but ended up with a back injury. Because of that, she was out a lot near the end of the season. But she has a lot of experience coming back.
"Ioana Demian was a starter on the outside last year as a sophomore. She and Cristina worked extremely hard through preseason, as has our whole team. It's one of the hardest working teams I've had in all my years coaching on the college level.
"Kayla Woodard, a freshman last season, was a defensive specialist who pretty much played every game last year. This year, she's moving to the Libero role.
"Ashley Newsome started a lot of games last year due to injury. She was put in the middle when both of the middle (players) were hurt last year, one with a knee injury and one with a back injury. Then, when Cristina got hurt Ashley was moved to the outside.
"Then, we have (sophomore) Kaitlin Wheatley and (junior) Dorey Gray in our setter role. We last a lot of experience when we lost Eva Kriegel from last season because she had been our setter for three years. But Dorey had been training under her. And Kaitlin was a freshman last year so she got a lot of valuable practice time. Both Dorey and Kaitlin played in the Fiesta Key Beach (Florida) volleyball tournament. And they won the entire tournament last year. And it was a very good field of players in the tournament.
"Dorey will be our starting setter (Friday), and she's also our captain on the court. She's got big shoes to fill, but I believe she can fill them. The team has responded well to her leadership on the court. She's a natural born leader type. She and Cristina are pretty much in the leadership roles this year."
Who are your newcomers and where do you see them fitting on the team this year?
"We have a good group of freshmen. I think five of the incoming freshmen's teams qualified for the national tournament, so they know how to compete because they are used to high level competition. I think we have every position covered. Last year, we didn't have depth. This year, we have depth, but it's inexperience depth.
"Grace Hoyt is in the center role and we expect a lot of contribution from her this year. She played on a club team that won the USA national championship this year. Right now, she is battling a foot injury, so she'll be resting this weekend. By taking that precaution right now, she'll be fine later.
"We have Hillary Hunt, our tallest player at about 6-4. She is lefthanded. As of now, she will be coming off the bench. She is very talented and will develop as the season progresses.
"Kellye Jordan, who is coming off of knee surgery, is a very fiery player who has a lot of spunk. She has a passion for the game. She'll develop as the season goes along.
"Then we have Leanna King who played for a great high school team in Alabama and knows what it means to win. She will see more time in the back row because outside we have two pretty seasoned players. She is a very good defensive player and her ball control is exceptional. Plus, she can swing out of the back row. We can give the ball to her and she can attack. She is a very good player who we expect to see a lot of in this first tournament.
"Mandy Mellencamp is a middle who will be starting for us this weekend. Mandy has a lot of determination and fits in our lineup very well. She goes off of one foot behind the center really well.
"Kelsey Nichols is another solid player for us. She played for Hoover (AL) High School. Her mother also played here. She is a dual role player for us who can either play in the back row in a defensive position for us or she can set. And she has a lot of leadership ability on the court. She is a very positive player on the court and brings a lot of energy.
"Caitlin Rance can play two positions also. She can be put in for the outside or the middle. She is a very crafty player who is very steady and very disciplined.
"Faith Steinwedell, who is very consistent, will be starting for us this weekend. Not only does she have front row skills, but she is a very good back row player for us as well.
"Aynne Swindell is a very good blocker for us, probably one of our best blockers at this point. She is a hard worker who will develop more as the season goes along."
Does it concern you that you have a couple of freshmen who will be starters?
"We've had freshmen starters every year that I have been here. It is a concern, but they'll just have to mature quickly. But they will have more playing time going into next year."
The SEC preseason poll predicts MSU to be last this season. Where do you expect your team to finish?
"We are always picked to be last, but we've never come in last. And I don't expect us to come in last this year."
What are your team expectations?
"I expect us to go out and work hard and improve every match. We have our goals, but right now, we are going to focus on one set at a time."
What are your objections for a tournament like you are hosting this weekend?
"The first three weekends are tournaments. And that is good for us because we are young and there are a lot of areas that we need to work on improving before we start SEC play. These (tournaments) are preparation leading up to the SEC."
MSU INVITATIONAL - Newell-Grissom Building
Friday, August 29
Saturday, August 30
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.