A Q&A With Hilary Hunt

Mississippi State redshirt freshman volleyball athlete Hilary Hunt, the talk of the June Central Mississippi Extravaganza, talks one-on-one with Gene's Page about her experience at the Extravaganza and about the Mississippi State volleyball program, which she feels is about to take off.

Hilary Hunt Profile

You represented Mississippi State volleyball at the Central Mississippi Extravaganza. When did you find out that you were going to it?
"I actually found out over the summer. One of my coaches called me and said that they had picked me. And I said I would do it. I was glad to represent my team and a changing program and a great coaching staff."

What was the experience like, meeting so many Bulldog fans?
"It was great. It was nice to interact with the fanbase. Really, it's about the fanbase. We don't just play for ourselves but we play for the fans, too. We get out in the community as much as we can doing community service but to meet that many State fans in that short of time and give them a briefing on our program really helped."

How important is it for the MSU fans to come out and support this team this year?
"This year is a very critical year for our program because we have a new coaching staff, new freshmen coming in and I also think this year we will be that underdog team that is going to shock a lot of people. And I'm not just talking about our fanbase but people who follow the conference. We are going to be that team that other teams fear on the court. Our hard work is really going to show on the court this year."

When you say hard work, what exactly are you referring to?
"We came in in July and we are working with (assistant strength) Coach (Richard) Akins, who is an extremely tough strength coach. He's pushing us beyond what we think we can do. It's that fifth game, the last point and you are dead tired ... can you push yourself even more? I think our team has learned a lot about that this summer.

"We have gotten faster, we have gotten stronger - a lot of us are lifting weights that we never could have imagined we would lift. And we are already seeing the changes in our play resulting from the work in the weight room."

When it comes to lifting weights what are you trying to do as volleyball athletes?
"Overall, it's general, the whole body. We are doing some of the things the football players do - we do squats, we do bench. And it's all about being in shape and being fast. And in order to be fast you have to have that muscle, you have to work your fast twitch muscles, you have to run a lot. He's strengthening us so that we are going to get it done on the court. We are going to jump higher, hit harder and get to our positions faster."

What are you specifically trying to improve?
"In general, my entire game. But, of course, I want to be a stronger hitter. And I want to have a better jump, be a lot faster when I'm moving from side to side when I'm going to block. I want to be a threat. I want people to say when I come in, 'gosh, number 4 is in.' I want them to be scared."

Your position is OPP. What exactly does that mean?
"It means opposite, which is the right side hitter. We have the left side hitter, which is the power hitter. I'm the second power hitter."

When did you first start playing volleyball? And why volleyball?
"My mom played SEC volleyball for South Carolina. I didn't just get into it to pleased my mom. I saw her play by watching her tapes and I thought that would be a good sport for me. I started when I was in the 6th grade. But I tried a lot of sports - tennis, basketball, track. But when I got into volleyball I just felt it was right for me. I had a great coach who really pushed me hard."

You also played club volleyball. Isn't volleyball pretty much year-round for the girls who not only play high school but club volleyball?
"Yes, it's year-round. You have high school, which goes up to December. Then you try out for your club team in December. It's kind of like a spring season but you get selected from among the girls that try out."

So, you don't just join a club, you have to be selected?
"Yeah, you don't just automatically make the team. It takes trying out and it takes a lot of work in high school. In Tampa, where I lived, there were four different clubs. I tried out for Tampa United and I made it. That was in the 6th grade. It's like college - you practice four days a week, then you travel. I've been to Texas, Atlanta ... you go all over. It's a great experience because you receive exposure. And that's how I got recruited. The coaches come to the matches of the club teams and watch you play because you play other girls who are the best in their states. Basically, all the best girls play on club teams and you play against each other."

Who recruited you and how did you wind up here?
"I was recruited by a lot of schools but I particularly focused in on the SEC because I really wanted to play in the Southeastern Conference. But who doesn't? I got recruited by a lot of the schools but my parents said come on a visit to State because they saw me in the finals of the Junior Olympics when I was sixteen. And they asked me to come on a visit. I was a little skeptical but I came on the visit and they made me feel at home. The campus is beautiful, the people are great, the athletic department has great people who are very supportive."

You mentioned that this team is going to surprise people. What specifically have you seen from this team that causes you to say that?
"One, we have been blessed to get a great coaching staff. I can't say that enough. A coaching staff is either hit or miss, and we have gotten very lucky. We have gotten coaches who not only care about us on the court but off the court. And they are really working on team bonding. And we have bonded well as a team, which is very important on the court. The teams with the best chemistry are going to win. You could have all the best players in the world but if you don't get along on the court you can't get it done.

"We are all working super hard and we all have the same goal. We all have bracelets that say W-T-W, which means Win The West. And we all wear them 24-7. And that's a common goal. We are all in it. That's so important and why we are going to surprise people. When the whole team wants something that bad nobody can stop you."

Going back to a statement you made earlier. You mentioned the coaching staff several times. Your new head coach, Jenny Hazelwood, has come in and isn't afraid to talk about winning a national championship. What are your thoughts about her?
"She is great. She knows what she wants. You need a coach that is going to want to push you and give you those goals. And that's what she is doing. What we are doing in the weight room and on the court has convinced us that we can do it."

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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