A Q&A With Senior Ioana Demian

Mississippi State senior volleyball athlete Ioana Demian talks one-on-one with Gene's Page.

When did you first start playing volleyball?
"I think I was 10 or 11. I'm not exactly sure, but I was pretty young."

Why did you decide to play volleyball instead of some other sport?
"My dad, who was 6-4, was a rugby player. And I started growing and my dad got excited about me playing volleyball. My older sister played handball, which is big in Europe."

Did you enjoy volleyball when you first started playing it?
"When I started I was kind of bored because of all the drills. But I think I did it because I wanted to make my dad proud. Then, I started getting good at it and got excited about playing all the time. So, then I couldn't give it up."

You mentioned that you started getting good at it. That's probably an understatement because you made the Romanian Junior National Team. That's a big deal.
"The first time I made it I was nervous because I was still young. I think I was 13. I was excited but I was still nervous because I knew there were going to be some older girls who would have more experience than I did. But then I got there and started practicing. The first time I didn't get to play too much because I still had a lot to learn.

"Then, they called me again and I grew up and was much more comfortable with the game."

When did you play with the national team?
"You play for your club team during the season, then in the summer (the national team) call you for practices and we have competitions in Europe. It's a summer and winter thing."

What was the competition like when playing with the national team?
"It was pretty tough. A lot of teams in Europe ... for example, the Russians were amazing. And the Serbians had really tall girls. All of them were 6-something. And they were together for years while we were kind of new at it, being together for a couple of months. You have to have that team chemistry.

"I remember we went to Germany and almost beat them on their court. And (we were) Romania and we weren't supposed to win. People were surprised that we could actually play at that level. It was a really good feeling to prove to people that we were a really good team."

How did you wind up at Mississippi State?
"Jozsef Forman, an assistant coach that was here when I came here, recruited me. I guess my former coach back home knew him. I'm not sure how. But he came to Europe and saw me play and made his tape so that (former MSU head coach) Tina Seals could see me. That's how I got here."

Were any other schools recruiting you?
"No, just Mississippi State. You pretty much have to have some connections for people to see you play. I don't know how else it would work to be honest with you."

Was it your goal to play volleyball in the United States?
"Oh yeah. It's a long history with my coach (Horea Ardelean). He brought a lot of girls to the USA. He has some connections with coaches in New York. If he coached girls that were not good enough to play professional, they would go to the USA and study. He wanted to make sure that his girls had a future.

"When I was a kid he said that I wasn't going to be taller than 5-4. I was so disappointed because he's usually right about everything. So, he said the best thing for me was to go to the USA and study because I had no chance to play professional volleyball. Then, I started growing and growing and I wouldn't stop. And he was kind of surprised. He couldn't believe that I grew so tall."

Obviously, language was a slight problem for you when you first got to the United State. How good was your English once you arrived here?
"I learned my English from watching tv. I don't think I was that good at it but I could understand everything that people were saying to me. And I could talk back. But it was a little bit hard at first to understand the southern accent."

Let's talk about you as a volleyball player and this year's team. How have you tried to improve yourself and how have you tried to help the team?
"I really think this new coach that we have, she is really good in controlling me. I have a little bit of a temper issue (laugh). And she's really good in controlling that and using my energy in a really positive way.

"And because this is my last year I am going to really try to make this my best year. And work as hard as I can."

How does she control your temper?
"She has this way of talking to people. If I'm doing something (wrong) and I don't agree with her opinion, she's going to tell me why I'm doing it. And if I know why and it makes total sense I'm like, yeah, ok, it's for my own good and to make me better."

What do you think about Jenny Hazelwood as a coach?
"She's amazing. It's her passion; she's just so passionate about what she is doing. She's an extremely nice person but when she's on the court as a coach she is intense. She is going to push you until you get it done. And it's for our own good because that's the only way we can get better."

What are practices like under Coach Hazelwood?
"When we started the real practices and saw the way she was (running) them and the drills it was intense and made sense. Time just flew by. When you are having such a good time......"

You were having a good time practicing? Most people think of practice as a grind.
"I was having a good time. She makes practice fun."

How does she make practice fun?
"She has this thing with competition. Every practice is a competition between players; who is the best, who can do this or do that. It's something that gets us excited. When it's practice we compete with each other; when it's a game we compete against the other team. That's what she's trying to teach us right now; to be competitive and fight until the end.

"The first practice that we had was over so quick. I think it was around 2 and a half hours long but I had the feeling we were only playing for like a half an hour. We were tired but I thought to myself, 'this was good.' And it's been like that ever since."

You are going into your fourth year so you know the other girls. And you are obvioulsy impressed with your new coach. So, what are your expectations for this year's team?
"This year I actually expect us to go to the NCAA (Tournament). And win the (SEC) west; that is our theme right now."

Why do you believe this team will be that good?
"I think we needed to have someone come in that would teach us how to have confidence. We were good, we just didn't believe we were good enough. And Jenny believes in us and has confidence in us. Even when we lost a game in the spring tournament she said, 'it's ok, we are going to learn from this.' The next game it wasn't like heads down and everybody was upset. She said, 'no, pick your heads up, the next game you aren't going to repeat the same mistakes.' She is always going to be patient and she is still going to believe in us even when we make a mistake. And I love that about her."

What are you majoring in?
"I'm majoring in fashion photography."

When will you graduate?
"I still have a year left. It was a little bit harder due to volleyball because there is a lot of studio work. And we were on the road all the time and it was hard to catch up."

When you graduate from Mississippi State what are your plans?
"I am still going to be in the (United) States. I plan on going to either California or Colorado. I need mountains in my life to be happy. That's my excuse (laugh). I like Mississippi a lot but I'm a mountain type of person because my hometown is in between mountains."

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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