"It's been really good. The most important thing was that they all came in in really good shape. I think that has a lot to do with working out with (strength) Coach (Richard) Akins the second term of summer school. They were able to do conditioning and weights with him. That meant from day one we were able to get into the gym and concentrate on volleyball. We still did a lot of conditioning type volleyball drills that made them really tired and some running in between. But they were in great shape. And it has to start there. I was really pleased with that."
Were they better than you expected?
"I definitely think they were a little bit better than expected. And when I got them we didn't have to focus on a lot of conditioning. If we are going a five-game match the girls have to be in good shape. You have to be able to perform at a high level and be good at volleyball when you are tired. I tell the girls that all the time."
Since your practices are two-a-days, are the practices in the morning a little bit tougher compared to the afternoon practices?
"It's actually the other way around. During our morning practices we go for about two hours and we don't let them jump at all. We get a lot of our ball-control defensive type drills, some of our serving drills during the morning practices. And it's a very high intensity practice. But they are not jumping. With volleyball you get a lot of your overuse injuries due to the constant jumping and pounding on their legs, shins, feet and knees. In the afternoon is when we do all our drills that involves blocking, hitting, any kind of offensive, and, of course, we will play six-on-six in scrimmage type situations."
Is the first week of practice a little different than the practices after the first week?
"Early on we kind of break down individual skill work, especially so that our newcomers will know how we teach things, how we want it done. One of the biggest things we are doing during that time is letting them know we are going to hold them to a very high standard in everything we do here. The first few days are like that. The last few days we have gotten a lot more strict on them. But they expected that because at the start of practice we told them that we were going to push them but we were going to expect more each day. Due to that, it has been a lot of building each day."
After watching the freshmen what are your thoughts about them?
"All three of them are doing a great job. It can be overwhelming for a freshman because there is a lot of stuff, a lot of instruction and they are coming into a new situation. And it's a lot of volleyball right away. Then there are the pressures of playing at this level. We are expecting them to consistently perform at a high level. All that can be challenging for a freshman but all three of them are doing a really good job. They push every day in practice. They are making adjustments as we asked them to. They are going hard even when you can see on their faces that they are exhausted. That's what you hope for and that's what we are getting from them. This group of girls is setting the standard that we don't accept anything less than 100% all the time. That means good things for the future of this program."
Is it to early to know if the freshmen will play this year?
"We definitely have a number of freshmen that won't redshirt. They will be contributing. We have even started looking at different lineups. We have done some of our six-on-six scrimmaging where we have put a starting group on one side and change it a number of times just to see who is working well next to somebody else on the court, who is going to be consistently passing well, who is going to consistently hitting for a good hitting percentage. And the freshmen are working into that.
"Chanelle Baker is one of them that has done that a lot. She is incredibly athletic. We've moved her around a little bit because she's pretty versatile. We've had her play outside, we've had her play the right side. She's even had to do middle in some drills so that we could get our other middles a little rest. She's got that mindset that she is going to work hard and she is going to do what her coaches ask her to do. If she struggles one day she is hard on herself. What we are trying to do is teach her that that is going to happen. Even though she is a great player she is going to have a tough day sometimes.
"Dravon Rangel has come in and done a really good job. She is really raw but very athletic. I think she will be a huge contributor in the future but she just has some catching up to do. She's a really good athlete who hasn't played a whole lot of volleyball at a high level. But she has a great attitude, a great work ethic and is going hard in the gym and staying positive and not getting frustrated. I'm really proud of the effort that she is putting in. I really look forward to seeing how she develops in the years to come.
"Hilary Parker is our third freshman. She is a setter from Texas. They are all from Texas. She is a really, really good kid who works extremely hard. At the setting position there is more to learn, even more of an adjustment because the speed of the game is faster and you are having to make split-second decisions. She's done a nice job of staying focused and being dedicated to learning the things she needs to learn. She makes us so strong when we do our six-on-six in practice. We had to have someone in that role. We have a senior setter so it wasn't that we didn't have a setter at all. We needed someone who was really good and that would make us that much better. And Hilary does that."
When Mississippi State fans see your team's first match how are they going to describe your team?
"I feel like after our first match people are going to say things like, 'they are very exciting to watch and they get very fired up.' It's actually funny because one of the team identity themes the girls had picked, and there were a bunch of them, they picked one called Madhouse of Fun. We thought that was really funny that they picked that one.
"They want people to come in and see that they really love what they are doing. They love playing volleyball. They love playing hard. They love playing at 100% and giving everything that they have. And they want people to see that. They want people to have seen that when they walk out of the gym.
"And that's what you will see. You will see a team that just doesn't give up. They will be fighters. They will be that scrappy team that will frustrate opponents because they won't ever let up."
Isn't there something coming up soon that will let MSU fans financially help increase the chairback seating in the volleyball facility?
"What we are doing with volleyball, and we are currently getting the specifics together, is if people want to donate they can buy a nameplate to put on a chair. We will use that money to put chairbacks in the rest of the facility. And to honor the people who donated the money we will put a nameplate with their name on it on a chair.
"We already have one side done but we need the other side done because we are going to be packing that place. Volleyball is going to be one of the things to do around here. People will want to go watch volleyball matches because it's a blast, really fun to watch and it's successful.
"We'll have the flyers at the games so people can pick them up when they come to the games. Hopefully, we'll have a huge outpouring of support for this so we can continue to make our facility one of the best in the SEC."
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.