New Head Volleyball Coach Jenny Hazelwood

New Mississippi State head volleyball coach Jenny Hazelwood, a former volleyball player at Mississippi State, talked one-on-one with Gene's Page prior to last Saturday's MSU men's basketball game vs Vanderbilt.

How did you getting the MSU head volleyball coaching position happen?
Jenny Hazelwood - "When Tina (Seals) resigned I had a number of people contact me, calling me, text messaging me about the job. Kind of through those connections I got in touch with people at Mississippi State through my resume and things like that.

"I found out that Tina resigned Sunday, December 14th. Friday, which was the 19th, was the first time I interviewed. I met with Ann Carr and Greg Byrne in Omaha, Nebraska where volleyball's final four was and the coaches convention. I had put together an entire packet that explained who I am, what I am about, this is what I have done, and this is what I would do specifically with this program.

"You commented (prior to this interview) that I really seem to know the ins and outs of this program. I tried to make that pretty evident in my presentation to them. I knew the players and told them this is your roster, this is where each player played, and this is what I see this roster needing in 2009, 2010 and 2011. I had followed this program and knew what it needed.

"I knew that they needed here and I knew exactly the areas I could go to find them. I have been in this for nine years so I have a lot of contacts. I have a lot of contacts in club volleyball, which is mainly where we recruit. And my plan is hit the ground running in recruiting because there is a lot of work to be done."

You mentioned recruiting. Are there certain areas of the country that you primarily recruit in or do you recruit nation-wide?
"I'm from Texas, so I have a lot of strong ties in Texas. From Dallas to Houston to Austin, I know a lot of people there. But I know people all over the United States. I have also gotten kids to come to (Austin Peay) Tennessee, from California and Canada, kids from Michigan and also from the Chicago area."

You mentioned club volleyball as a fertile ground to recruit. Do you recruit much from the high schools themselves?
"We don't recruit too much out of high school mainly because our seasons are played at the same time, so it's difficult to get to their games for our staff because it's so small (three-person staff).

"Club volleyball has club tournaments that pretty much start in January with practice in December. Our recruiting calendar doesn't allow us to start recruiting until the middle of January. Coaches are starting to go out recruiting right now, in fact. Normally, I would as well, but I've got things I've got to do here first. I feel like I need to get in the gym with my girls first since I've seen them play very little. I'm not going to go out blindly recruiting. Once I'm in the gym with the girls I will get a really good feel about where they all are and and then get a feel about what areas we need to fill."

How many can you sign?
"We've got one commitment already. We'll honor that. I also have one other scholarship available. Having one is actually not that bad really since there won't be a lot of great players available."

How many coaches can be out on the recruiting trail at the same time?

You've brought Lindi Bankowski with you. I'm assuming Lindi and you will go out recruiting in about a week. With just one scholarship available for this year's class it sounds like you will actually be recruiting for the classes of 2010 and 2011.
"Yes, 2010 and 2011."

When you recruit, what are you actually looking for?
"It depends on the positions because different positions need difference qualities. We both see similar things in kids when we are recruiting. That's why we work so well together.

"I want to see certain skills from a setter. I was a setter (when I played volleyball at MSU) so I'm probably a little more picky. I want a certain mentality from the setter. And in all honesty, a portion of that mentality is going to be more important because I can train players footwork, handwork, but you can't train some of the mentality that you need from your setter. That was one of our strengths at Austin Peay. We had two of the best setters in the Ohio Valley Conference hands down. We had two not just one because we were in a two-setter system. And they were both very, very good. That has typically been a strength of my teams and that's how it will be here also. The setters are your quarterbacks. They run the team on the offense, they tough every second ball.

"From the Libero position, we like to see that certain mindset again.

"I also like them to have a certain attitude, always hustle. And athleticism will be something that we will really focus on here. Height is important in the SEC. You have to be tall, but you have have to be tall and athletic. We will go after great athletes - girls that are 6-4 and great athletes. That is what it will take to get this program to compete at a higher level. We already have height here, but I have to see the girls play to see how they are athletically."

Since you really haven't seen the girls already on your roster, part of my next question may be difficult to answer right now. What are your short term goals and what are your long term goals for this program?
"Yeah, I really need to see what I have, but I have gone into programs where they have struggled a little bit so I know what it's like as far as the mentality of the team. I've already met a little with the girls so I know they are excited. It's always exciting when things are new and different. Having them excited is always a great thing. We are going to get them in the gym and push them, possibly, harder than they have ever been pushed. That is sort of a trademark of mine. Teams aren't going to outwork us."

You sound just like Dan Mullen and John Cohen when you talk about the work ethic of your team.
"Yeah, that's what it takes to build a program. When I got to Austin Peay, I really pushed those girls in the spring. And they really did a great job of responding to that.

"In our first season there we were 8-25, but played some of the best teams in our conference well when, in the past, we hadn't beaten them in a set in games forever. We even beat some teams that had 20 wins that years. It was a building block. They realized that they could compete at that level. They started to believe that.

"Then, the next year we were competing for a conference title. When we started the 2008 season that was our mindset, that was my focus. It came down to the last few weekends. And we finished one game out of first place in our conference."

Didn't you go 22-11 that season?
"Yes, 22-11. It was a 14-game turnaround, the largest turnaround in Division-I. A lot of that was due to the girls working so hard my first year."

And actually, the 22-win season was done with a lot of players that you and your coaches recruited.
"Actually, there were only two players on the roster who I didn't recruit. And the two that I didn't recruit were unbelievable in buying into what we were doing. So, I felt like they were all mine."

A 14-game turnaround is really, really impressive. Was a certain turning point that led up to the turnaround?
"As we sat in our locker room after our last match in the 2007 season, I told those girls that they need to remember how it feels right now because you don't want to feel this way again. I told them they are too talented to have to sit here and be 8-25. I told them they will start focusing on competing at a higher level everyday and expect that of themselves.

"Then, when we met with them in their individual meetings, I told them they need to start thinking about a conference championship immediatly. It's not about just wanting to get a little better, it's about thinking about a conference championship. That's all we talked about. When we were training in the spring and doing all the difficult drills, it was all about competing at the top of our league. It was all about a mindset.

"There were matches the very first weekend when we were down 21, 22 to 18, 19 and I knew the mentality of that team well enough to know they weren't going to lose. The year before there was still some of that, 'gosh, I don't know if we can pull this out.' But this team was different because all we instilled in them was that they will win games because we have the talent, we have the depth to win.

"It was fun to watch the 2008 season team. In seven of our eleven matches that we lost, we lost in five matches. We beat some good teams. We split in the regular season with the two teams that finished tied for first in our conference. We were the only team to defeat Tennessee Tech in their building and they won our conference and went on to play in the NCAA Tournament."

You did that at Austin Peay. Do you think you can do something similar here at Mississippi State? And if so, why?
"Most definitely. I think we can do that for several reasons. We've already talked about recruiting. That's one of my strong points. I'm a people person and I think it takes that. I also know a lot of people and have a lot of contacts. And those people know the type person that I am. But I'm also good at spotting that player that is going to help your program whatever level it may be. I know you need a different level kid here, so we will go after that type kid.

"Also, another thing that will help us get some of the top recruits is due to where this athletic department is headed. I took Lindi through the academic center. There are not going to be that many colleges in this country that can compete with that. When we take recruits through that building it is going to be impressive to them. There is also a plan in place for the (improvement of the) different facilities and one of those is ours."

We've talked about some of the reasons why Mississippi State decided to hire you. But why did you want to come back to Mississippi State and coach? There had to be more to it than your love for Mississippi State.
"I love this place with every part of my being. But I also love what I do. That means I want to compete at the highest level that I can. And I want to win games. So part of looking at this job was seeing where the athletic department is and where it is headed. When Greg and Ann Carr both spoke about their vision not only about volleyball but for every sport, that was very attractive to me. I could tell that it wasn't just going to be filling a spot and they would move on. They made a commitment to me by providing a multi-year contract, something that they had never done here before for a volleyball coach. They really want to see this program succeed. And they understand that it takes a lot of do that. You are competing against these other SEC schools that put money in their programs, including volleyball.

"And Greg has made a commitment to volleyball and he wants to see volleyball as successful as softball (softball has been to the NCAA Tournament five of the last six years). He wants to see that kind of growth in our sport. He also understands that we are at a little disadvantage here because volleyball in the state is still a long ways off from where it can be. Due to that, we need to have the ability to go to where we need to go to find the recruits that we need find. Due to all of that, there were no reservations by me to come into this situation."

On the Austin Peay official athletic department site it was immediately announced that Lindi Bankowski, your assistant coach there, was coming with you. What is it about here that caused you to immediately hire her for your staff here?
"I've had a number of assistants through the years. You find that happening at mid-major Division I schools. They will get the experience, then move on. With Lindi, she is so good at what she does in every area, to the point where I have said that I need to add a session at our convention that talks about how to be a good assistant coach. She is that good. It's more than she is great in the gym with our players. It's also due to recruiting and how she deals with players and their parents. She can also spot talent. We are very similar in many ways. But she has strengths in areas that I don't. She is very organized and gets things done. All I have to do is say something and before I know it she's gotten it done. She is very pro-active in a lot of the things that she does. There are some people who don't take that type initiative. She makes me even better at my job because I don't have to go back to my assistant about something."

What kind of team will Jenny Hazelwood put on the court?
"A team that plays for me will be fun to watch even if we are going through some growing pains of building a program. We are always going to play hard. Our team at Austin Peay finished sixth in the nation digs per game. You are going to have a hard time putting the ball down on us. That's why we won a lot of games. If you are going to win, you are going to have to play defense. Nebraska and Penn State are in the championship game. For teams with such unbelievable hitters, they also play great defense. That is one thing that you are going to see from our team.

"Another thing that Lindi and I do is that we are always thinking strategy while scouting a team. We are figuring out where their weaknesses are and will really go after those weaknesses. People, if they know a lot about volleyball, are going to see that our teams are well-trained.

"I just think it's going to be a fun time to watch volleyball, even this next year."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by emailing

Gene's Page Top Stories