Volleyball Star's Influence Stretches To Football Field
By Bob Carskadon
Some girls give advice to their sisters. Plenty more dole out encouragement to their friends or roommates. Ann Landers and Dear Abby share words of wisdom with those are Confused in Concord and Miserable in Minneapolis.
But Paris Perret? She gives guidance to an SEC quarterback when he’s getting ready to face an LSU or Alabama defense.
Mississippi State’s junior setter on the volleyball team has developed a friendship with Tyler Russell, MSU’s junior quarterback, and it’s not hard to see why.
“She’s the quarterback of our team,” volleyball coach Jenny Hazelwood said.
Though there’s plenty more to it than that.
Russell’s story has been well-chronicled. He was the star of Dan Mullen’s first recruiting class at MSU and he was intended to lead the way as the new coach attempted to resurrect a once-proud program that had been through some hard years.
Without the attention football gets, Hazelwood was given the same charge when she was hired in 2009 as the new head of the program. Volleyball recruiting is done years in advance, and when Perret arrived at MSU in 2010, it wasn’t with the same fanfare of Russell, but the expectations, the promise and the potential were the same.
Perret was expected to be the foundation of the team, of the program.
“We told her that in recruiting,” Hazelwood said. “‘You will be a big part of starting this and making it happen.’ Her role in that cannot be understated.”
Russell and Perret took different paths, but they’re in the same place now. They’re the leaders, with the weight of their teams on their shoulders, the hopes of success for their programs riding on their actions.
It’s plenty for any college student to handle.
“It helps out that she’s a really close friend,” Russell said. “Just having somebody that kind of understands the things you’re going through. She’s the captain of her team. We talk about the different things that I would do in situations. How to get the guys to get focused and get ready to play. I ask her things like, ‘What are you doing to prepare the girls?’ and stuff like that. We help each other out. Our friendship is strong.”
The mutual advice even goes beyond leadership and personality.
Called the “quarterback” of her team, Perret is a setter, meaning exactly what it sounds like. She commands the team on the court and it’s her job to set things up for the other players to spike the ball and win points. Basically, she’s passing the ball. Just as it’s Russell’s job to get the ball in the hands of running backs and receivers and put them in a position to make plays.
“We talk about that all the time,” Russell said. “She calls plays. She has to make plays as soon as the ball comes over the net. She has to be really fast, and it’s the same thing with me playing quarterback. You’ve gotta know your keys and stuff like that. That’s how we help each other.”
Now in her third year, Perret said she’s seen improvement in her squad each year since arriving on campus, particularly last season when they took down three ranked teams over the course of the fall, something that had not been happening often for MSU.
Russell’s second year, of course, was 2010, when MSU made the jump from a 5-7 record to 9-4 with a berth and victory in the Gator Bowl.
“I feel like their football team is in almost the same place we’re at,” Perret said. “We’ve made big strides and they’ve made big strides the past couple years. This is the year where Mississippi State is the big name in the SEC.”
She’ll be leading the way for her team this season, which is off to a 2-1 start early in the schedule.
The goal for Perret this year sounds like something you might hear from Mullen. She said surprising a few ranked teams “isn’t enough. I want more.”
Perret and her team have goals much higher than simply exceeding expectations.
“We want to be the changers of Mississippi State volleyball,” she said.
Those words and the attitude behind them are exactly what Hazelwood, a setter herself for MSU in the 1990s, wants from her team leader.
The coach said her star junior keeps the team in line, maintains their focus and generally makes sure “everything in every area is functioning correctly.”
Just as Mullen has lauded Russell for stepping into the leadership role in his first year as the unquestioned starter, Russell heaped praise on Perret for accomplishing the same.
“She’s been doing a really good job of that, and I think they’re gonna have a really good season, as well,” Russell said.