April 16, 2010 9:36:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- For Jenny Hazelwood and the Mississippi State volleyball team, Saturday''s alumni match will be a chance to relax.
The Lady Bulldogs have spent the offseason working on ball control, improving strength and building off their 2009 finish, which saw them win three of their last four matches.
Hazelwood and assistants Lindi Bankowski and Branden Higa have spent a significant portion of the offseason recruiting for the 2011 class, using the strong finish last season to increase the talent pool.
"We can sell that we''re making that progress," Hazelwood said. "Any time you can beat a number of teams in a great league, people know you''re doing the right things. You don''t struggle early on and finish that strong unless you''re doing the right things. Players are working hard, a good coaching staff is giving good instruction and keeping them motivated. That''s what we sell."
MSU signed three players in the fall and BYU-Hawaii transfer Hannah Wilkinson in January.
Wilkinson, a 6-foot-1 middle blocker, has participated in spring workouts, including two jamborees at Alabama and North Alabama.
Just a week after competing in the last spring match, Hazelwood admits the spring workouts and jamboree results had their "ups and downs."
"That''s the nature of the offseason," Hazelwood said. "We did look much better this past Saturday and you could tell we were making the progress we want.
"We want to be a great service and passing team, and a team that''s really good defensively, taking care of an easy ball."
Hazelwood confirmed freshman Dravon Rangel has transfered to Texas Tech, joining Hillary Hunt (medical hardship), Kaitlyn Wheatley and Leanna King as players from the 2009 roster who''ve opted to focus more on school or leave the program for various reasons.
But with the return of middle blocker Mandy Mellencamp from knee surgery, along with Wilkinson''s integration into the squad, Hazelwood heads into the alumni game looking to have fun with one more spring match against Ole Miss on April 24.
"We''ve got a great squad coming back and it''s a time to celebrate," Hazelwood said. "There''ll be a lot going on with Super Bulldog Weekend and I want the girls to enjoy themselves."
Hazelwood''s predecessor, Tina Seals, along with last year''s seniors, Ioana Demian and Dorey Gray, are set to return for the alumni team. Erin Seago, Megan Lukasek and Cristina Jucan are alums who will suit up, too.
One alum who won''t play is Hazelwood, who starred in the late 90s.
"With Dorey coming back, they didn''t need a setter or else I would have gladly stepped in."
Macdonald still tinkering with offense
The Mississippi State soccer needs to score more goals.
MSU coach Neil Macdonald knows that and that''s why he''s spent the spring changing systems.
Now, he has three spring games, not including tonight''s match at Memphis, to evaluate the progress his team has made in becoming a more creative offensive team.
MSU lost 2-0 to Ole Miss and 2-1 to Alabama, while routing Samford.
"The Ole Miss game was a close game and we had a large amount of the possession," Macdonald said. "Although I wasn''t happy with the result, I was pleased with the performance. It was our first game and I believe it was their sixth.
"Then, we scored five goals in the second half against Samford, and that was good to see against a good team."
Macdonald wants to use 6-foot striker Rachel Wannek in an isolated role to help release the speedy Tarah Henderson up the field.
"It''s clear that Kat Walsh is our main offensive threat, but it''s key we get others involved in the attack," Macdonald said. "Rachel is a great target, so we''ve been working hard on our delivery to her and trying to get her to be more active.
"We like the results so far."
Following tonight''s game, the Bulldogs will hold their annual alumni game at 10 a.m. Saturday.
1. Heritage Academy's Kerby at home in shot put circle HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS