A Q&A with Jay Miller

Mississippi State head softball coach Jay Miller does a Q&A with Gene's Page about the upcoming season and his program in general.

Overall, what are your impressions of the fall practices and fall games that you played?
"I was really pleased with our fall season. Fall is so different than the spring in terms of the level of competition and other things like that.

"Defensively, we played very well both in the infield and outfield. I thought we got great pitching. I was a little frustrated with out hitting at times. I think we are a better hitting team than we showed this fall. But a lot of that was because we had a lot of young kids in the lineup and having to learn what it takes to compete at this level.

"But overall, I think we had a good fall, and we found out what we need to work on over the course of the winter to get ready for the spring season. And we are looking forward to the spring."

You said you felt good about your defense in the infield and outfield. How about expanding on that.
"We lost two great defensive players in Courtney Bures, the number one shortstop in the country, and Haley Guess in centerfield. Those were two question marks going in. We now have two freshmen starting in the outfield, two and a sophomore. But they did a great job. In the infield we have moved people around a lot, and still haven't really settled on some things. I don't know who is going to play shortstop yet. But I think we have three kids who can all do a great job there. It's going to come down to who is hitting best for us."

What will be the strength and weaknesses of this team?
"The weaknesses are going to be our youth and our inexperience. We are counting on some young kids because we only have two seniors. They are going to have to come through and elevate their game a little bit. Kids that were freshmen for us last year - Ali Bainbridge, Courtney Nesbit, Jessie Spain - are going to also have to step up and help carry us."

You mentioned the pitching was great during the fall. How good do you feel this pitching staff can be?
"I think this will be the best pitching staff that we have ever had here at Mississippi State as long as we can stay healthy. And that is a big question mark and concern for us."

Why do you feel this pitching staff can be the best ever at Mississippi State?
"We have four pitchers who are all quality pitchers who can give us innings that win ballgames in the SEC. While I feel good about where we are at, we have had some injury problems. We have (sophomore) Misty (Flesher). And we had a freshman come in - Lindsey Dunlap - who threw very well and was our top kid this fall. But she has been fighting arm and elbow problems all fall."

In softball, if you have a dominating pitcher she can carry a team. Is Lindsey that type pitcher?
"I think talent-wise she can, but I don't know if physically she can do it due to her arm. If her arm holds up she can, but I worry about how durable she will be over the course of a long season."

Is there anything that is going to be different about the upcoming season compared to years past?
"Basically, our schedule had been reduced by the NCAA. This coming spring will be the first year that we will be under the 56-game limitation. In the past, we have always counted tournaments as one game per day even though we we played two, sometimes three games per day. That allowed teams to play 78 games in a year rather than 56. Because of that, we have had to change our schedule a little bit. Our home tournaments, instead of being six games, we are playing four games on those weekends. Some of the teams we are playing home and home with, such as Southern Miss, UAB, teams like that, we are now playing one time in the season."

Do you like the new schedule?
"I think it will help us from a physical standpoint. Our conference is such a tough conference. Your non-conference schedule is going to be critical in terms of getting enough strength, power ranking, RPI points as well as getting enough wins to get into the NCAA tournament. So, it makes scheduling a little more difficult. And because of that, you have to watch it a little bit closer than you had to in the past."

You've been to the NCAA tournament five of your six years here. I know this is a relatively young team, but do you think there's a realistic chance it can make the NCAA regional this season?
"I fully expect us to be in the NCAA tournament. We are tired of losing at regionals. We want to advance past that to the Super Regionals and World Series. That is what our program is striving for and where we expect to get to. A problem that we've had, when you look at the regionals that we've gone to the last two years, we've gone to Arizona State last year and they won the national championship. We were at Arizona the year before, they won the national championship. Our goal is to get to the point where we can host regionals here in Starkville. And we were almost there last year. We were ranked in the top 15 to 20 pretty much most of the year, and got as high as 14th. I thought if we had finished strong and had won at Arkansas, we would have had a shot at hosting. But we lost that last series at Arkansas two out of three. And I think that really killed our chances of hosting. So, our next step is to get into the solid top 16 where we can get one of the host sites."

Talking about hosting a regional, that leads me into talking about your facilities. Do you feel you currently have the type facilities that will allow you to host a regional like you would want to?
"I think we meet the minimum requirements to host. There are a lot of places that host around the country that don't have as good of facilities as we have here at Mississippi State.

"But if you look at facilities across the Southeastern Conference, we are at the bottom of the barrel. Us and Kentucky are the only schools in the conference that don't have stadiums, we have bleachers. We have no real pressbox, no internet capabilities in the field. Everybody else in the conference is doing live streaming, we are not. Us and Kentucky are the only two teams in the SEC that don't have live streaming. Florida streams every one of their home games. And most of the schools do all of their home SEC games.

"There has been a big expansion the past few years. Tennessee just opened up a 13 million dollar stadium. Arkansas and LSU both just opened up brand new stadiums, 11 million plus, just this past fall. Those were teams we could compete against, facility-wise, until the expansion. Now, they are a major step ahead of us. Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Auburn and Alabama were already way ahead of us. So, we went from the bottom third to dead last, between us and Kentucky.

"Facilities is the area, down the road, that I hope we can make some changes and make some improvements for our program."

If you could starting building a stadium tomorrow, what would you want it to include?
"We need similar things that our baseball program has - we need chair back seats for our fans, we need some skyboxes so that we can generate some revenue, we need bigger dugouts, we need a pressbox that can handle tv, radio, and we have no internet there. If we had 500 to 600 chair back seats, that would be great. We would like to have locker rooms for the home team and rooms for the visiting team underneath the stadium. A place where the umpires can change and get dressed for the game. We need a lot more storage space especially for our grounds crew. We need the things that would allow us to host an SEC championship and an NCAA championship comfortably."

Baseball is building a new infield behind the Palmeiro Center. Is that something you need as well?
"We need a new field. The infield doesn't drain very well, and the outfield drains horribly. But we can get by with what we have. We have a great indoor facility. So, we are able to get a lot accomplised with it. That facility is one of the things that has been a big plus for us recruiting-wise. Nobody in the country has a facility like we do for practice, for indoor work."

Obviously, you have some disadvantages compared to the other SEC schools but you put a really good team on the field and you do an excellent job in recruiting. How do you do so well in recruiting when you have those type disadvantages?
"It's due to hard work. Annie Smith, our Associate Head Coach, is in charge of our recruiting, and she does an outstanding job in terms of selling Mississippi State and our program. The Southeastern Conference being such a strong conference in softball is a selling point. And we've had some success here. We've been one of the top academic teams in the nation. Those are all things we can use."

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 swindoll@genespage.com.

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