August 14, 2013 12:21:52 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- The rebuilding project for Mississippi State University volleyball coach Jenny Hazelwood continues to just get harder.
The 2012 season was forgettable in every mental sense and historical sense as the Bulldogs finished with the program's first winless season in Southeastern Conference play in 20 years -- two years before Hazelwood arrived on campus as a player.
MSU's roster has done a complete remake as well as the Bulldogs have only one player that has ever experienced a victory in SEC play - senior outside hitter Dani McCree.
The only All-SEC honoree in the locker room of the Newell-Grisson Building is sophomore libero Roxanne McVey as a All-Freshman selection last year but her position doesn't allow for her to be on the court consistently.
MSU hasn't had much recent success with All-SEC freshman team selections. 2011 All-SEC freshman selection Lainey Wyman was dismissed from the team in the offseason for what Hazelwood classified as a violation of team rules leaving the program with just two players who had double-digit starts last season (McCree and highly recruited outside hitter Taylor Scott). Wyman was suspended for the season-opening tournament last season for a undisclosed team violation but returned to start 14 games in 2012.
Setter Paris Perret, who was on pace to finish second all-time in school history in career assists, quit the team in October just 14 games into the season. Perret, who was the first setter MSU signed under the leadership of Hazelwood, had multiple struggles with the relationship with her head coach since ranking fourth in the Southeastern Conference with 1,024 assists in 2011, becoming the second MSU freshman all-time to reach the 1,000-assist mark in a season.
Perret's role of setter, considered the quarterback on the court in volleyball, will be a battle between sophomore transfer Katlyn Mataya from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and the highly touted freshman Suzanne Horner from State College, Pa.
Horner is a two-time Pennsylvania Class AAA All-State setter from State College High School and a finalist for the state's Gatorade Player of the Year award. She turned down offers from nationally-ranked programs, including her hometown school of Penn State University, for a chance to start at MSU.
"Suzanne Horner is one of the most gifted setters I have seen play the game," Hazelwood said. "She has the ability to run the offense from anywhere on the court and will be the true court leader that is needed in her position."
McVey is hoping to turn around the trend of MSU's All-Freshman selections having a poor sophomore campaign simply by knowing she still has fundamental flaws in her game that more college and practice experience should help cure.
"I think that if you make things easy you'll never get better," McVey said. "In my mind I try to keep things hard and I have teammates pushing me. I have people working just as hard as myself."
Hazelwood, who enters her fifth season coaching her alma mater with a 36-84 record, is relying on her young players and newcomers to draw back to their successful days in club volleyball in order to turn this MSU program around in 2013.
The MSU coach recognizes her team's record hasn't been parallel in recent history with where the Bulldogs recruiting classes have been ranked. This incoming class of six freshmen were rated with Highest Honorable Mention status by PrepVolleyball.com's Top 55 rankings.
"We've got so much talent here and they've been highly successful where they came from that as a coaching staff it's our job to let them know it's a higher level but they're confident they can meet that expectation," Hazelwood said.
Otherwise Hazelwood, who has hired two new assistant coaches this season, is relying on the youth of the players simply being ignorant to the program's lack of a winning tradition in Starkville.
"They don't know about us in the past what they don't know," Hazelwood said. "They're going to be able to train hard and learn at a fast pace. The struggles with come but these girls are making changes in a matter of days to things."
Hazelwood didn't do any favors with her own schedule by agreeing to play in a non-conference tournament hosted by Baylor University and features Tulsa University. Since 2008-09, MSU has only gotten through non-conference play with a winning record once, the 2010-11 season, and Hazelwood knows how important a fast start can be to this team's psyche.
"We have some matches early on that we should be highly competitive in and that'll build that confidence so by the time we hit SEC play that'll be an exciting thing for these guys," Hazelwood said. "They'll get to learn while doing."