You see it all throughout sports across every preseason - a constant belief that a key to success is team chemistry, formed both inside and outside of the gym.
In Starkville, Mississippi State volleyball head coach Jenny Hazelwood believes her 2014 edition is the closest team she’s had since arriving on the collegiate volleyball coaching scene in 2000.
“This is the most tight-knit group I have ever coached in my 14 years of coaching for only being a few days into the preseason,” Hazelwood said. “It’s a genuine unity. They really are a true team and that is pretty remarkable this early in the preseason.”
Tuesday marks the fifth day of preseason practice for State, as Hazelwood’s crew prepares for the upcoming season. To help the Bulldogs prepare, on top of two-a-days and rigorous conditioning, Hazelwood brought in experts in military-style team building. From activities that are as simple as getting to know your teammates to demanding physical training, the exercises are centered on building a true, unified team.
“They really break each person down individually and make them realize they can do more than they ever thought they could,” Hazelwood said. “You just learn more about the real person. We’ve built this unity and this team mentality.”
And from those workouts was born a saying that each player has taken to heart: “Ohana.” For Disney fans, you’ll recognize this from the movie Lilo & Stitch. The word, which is of Hawaiian origin, simply means “family.”
“In the very first military-style workout, one of the girls said ‘Ohana’ and it just stuck,” Hazelwood said. “Later on, we did another grueling, physical workout and the girls had ‘Ohana’ written on their legs and arms.
"It reminds them that we are a family. This is their volleyball family.”
For Hazelwood, it has been a remarkable sight to see her team, made up of six returnees and 11 newcomers, come together as a family in such a short span of time. It’s something that every coach wants in his or her program.
“We’re only a couple days into the preseason and everyone that is around our program would 100 percent agree that the trust a team needs is there already,” Hazelwood said. “That can take weeks and weeks, if not months to build. We’re there already and that’s unbelievable.”
Seventeen days separate the Bulldogs from their season-opener in Huntsville, Texas, at the Sam Houston Invitational. And there isn’t a doubt around the program that when MSU takes the court on August 29, that this volleyball family will be ready for the season.For more information and updates on Mississippi State volleyball, fans can follow the Bulldogs on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at HailStateVB.