STARKVILLE, Miss. – Since the preseason started 23 days ago, the countdown has been on. After 24 practices and countless hours preparing, the Mississippi State volleyball Bulldogs will finally take the court Friday, Aug. 29, to open the 2014 season.
“It’s really exciting to get to kick off another season,” sixth-year head coach Jenny Hazelwood said. “It’s always exciting to see where your team is, how they match up and what their strengths and weaknesses are. I’m just really pumped for this group and this year will be a lot of fun.”
Since taking over in 2009, Hazelwood’s squads have been 4-1 in season-openers. This year’s away tournament is the first time since 2006 that MSU has not opened the year within the friendly confines of the Newell-Grissom Building.
The Bulldogs will open the season in Huntsville, Texas, for the 2014 Sam Houston Invitational. MSU joins Bakersfield, Texas-Pan American, the University of Louisiana at Monroe and host Sam Houston State in the tournament’s field. State takes on the Bakersfield Roadrunners at 1:30 p.m. CT, and the Sam Houston State Bearkats at 6:30 p.m., on Friday. Following the doubleheader, Hazelwood’s squad will return on Saturday to face UTPA (11:30 a.m.) and ULM (4:30 p.m.) to close out the weekend.
Mississippi State will showcase a roster of 17 players as it enters the 2014 season, highlighted by 11 newcomers and six returnees. Hazelwood’s class of 2014 signees feature a mix of rookie and experienced talent, as seven freshmen and four transfers will don the Maroon and White this season.
Returning for the Bulldogs are sophomores Chelsea Duhs and Bali Leffall-Young, juniors Alex Warren, Katlyn Mataya and Ellen Stuart and MSU’s lone senior, Kelsey Stommes. The group is led by Warren, who returns after leading the Bulldogs in blocks last season with 89 total, while standing top three in kills (175), attack percentage (.231) and points (241.5). Mataya has emerged as the vocal leader on the court during the 2014 preseason. The setter returns after piling up 229 assists, which stood second on the squad last year.
Duhs is also coming off an impressive 2013, where she shined as a freshman. The California native stood top five on the team with 165 kills and 241.5 points, while standing second in total blocks with 85.
Middle Tennessee transfer Shelby Anderton and former Houston Cougar Emily Howard come to State after two impressive years with their former respective DI programs. Amber Gass (Hudson Valley [NY] CC) and Cheyenne Spell (Tyler [TX] JC) round out the Bulldog transfers.
High school standouts Kelly Costeira, Payton Harris, Tyra Long and Ericka Timberlake will see their first collegiate volleyball experience in the Maroon and White in 2014. The remaining three freshmen bring crucial international experience to the Bulldogs, as Chantal Martin (Munich, Germany), Lourdes Rosario (Bayamon, Puerto Rico) and Leticia Valente (Sao Paulo, Brazil) will begin their college careers this season.
The Bulldogs enter the new year after capturing 12 victories last season, the most since Hazelwood returned in 2009 and the most for the program since winning 17 in 2006. State also enjoyed great non-conference success, earning nine wins, the most against non-Southeastern Conference opponents since 2000. In SEC play, MSU swept consecutive conference opponents for the first time since 2009 and registered its first win in Knoxville by downing Tennessee in the last weekend of the season.
Following State’s time in Huntsville, Texas, they will head to Bloomington, Ind., for the Indiana Invitational (Sept. 5-6).
For more information and updates on Mississippi State volleyball, fans can follow the Bulldogs on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at HailStateVB.