With a week left until the 2014 season officially gets underway, the Mississippi State volleyball Bulldogs are still hard at work in Starkville as the second week of preseason draws to a close. And while much is left to do in the remaining week, head coach Jenny Hazelwood is happy with her team’s progression.
“We play in a week and I’m really happy with where we are,” Hazelwood said. “I’m really starting to get nit-picky with a lot of the little things. As a coach you can say, ‘Oh, those things are not all the way there yet,’ but it’s obviously not realistic to expect the team to have everything fine-tuned at this point.”
Even with some work left to be done before the Bulldogs take the court for the first time this season in Huntsville, Texas, on Aug. 29, Hazelwood is impressed with how far her team has come in such a short time. Between grueling two-a-days, rigorous conditioning and a new approach to building a strong team bond, the 2014 program has made great strides.
“When I step back and see how far we have come in the short amount of time we have been together, it’s pretty impressive,” Hazelwood said. “We’re really starting to see our systems come together, and most people, even a lot of freshmen, are getting the hang of what we do and how we expect them to do it.”
The growth of Hazelwood’s 11 newcomers is crucial to the program’s success in the upcoming year. A major key to their growth lies in the leadership by State’s returnees, which is where junior Katlyn Mataya has been critical.
“Katlyn Mataya is one of the hardest workers in the gym. She’s always super vocal and she constantly keeps the energy flowing,” Hazelwood said.
Mataya enters the year as one of MSU’s primary setters and one of six returners. The junior from Mount Vernon, Wash., makes her presence known every time she steps on the court, constantly keeping the squad energized and focused on the task at hand.
Where Mataya has proven to be the Bulldogs’ vocal leader, junior Alex Warren has emerged as a model for leading by example.
“She is not the super-loud type person, but she’s always leading by example, always works hard and always strives to be her very best in every drill she does,” Hazelwood said.
The leadership of players like Mataya and Warren will become even more key as match week arrives. After the team’s Bulldog Tourney Day last weekend, which featured two intra-squad scrimmages, the Bulldogs will now turn their attention to their annual Maroon & White Scrimmage this Saturday. Hazelwood and her staff look at this scrimmage as a chance to gauge the team’s progress and put it in a match day scenario.
“We’re going to go through the full scouting report, game day pass around and all the regular pregame stuff we do,” Hazelwood said. “With Saturday, we will be fully getting into game mode.”
MSU will wrap up practices in Starkville on Wednesday, Aug. 27, before hopping on a bus to head to Huntsville. In a week’s time, State will be opening the season against Bakersfield, putting all its hard work from the preseason into action.
For more information and updates on Mississippi State volleyball, fans can follow the Bulldogs on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at HailStateVB.