Jenny Hazelwood begins her fourth season as volleyball coach at Mississippi State on Friday. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
The Mississippi State football and volleyball programs have something in common this year.
Before the Bulldogs open with the Jackson State Tigers on the gridiron at Davis Wade Stadium on Sept. 1, the volleyball version steps onto the court at Newell-Grissom Building Friday night against the same school.
MSU volleyball coach Jenny Hazelwood likes the fact her team gets to start the season in a tournament environment and hosting the Maroon Classic.
"We have a huge home court advantage here and they are comfortable in this environment," Hazelwood said after completing a Wednesday afternoon practice. "We'll get a number of matches under our belt and do that at home."
The Bulldogs finished with records of 12-17 overall and 7-13 in the Southeastern Conference last season. The conference mark tied for State's second-most league wins in a season and its best overall finish since 1984.
Hazelwood believes the momentum from last season carried into the offseason and preseason workouts.
"We've had a great preseason," Hazelwood said. "The girls worked really hard. With a young group, we had a lot to learn. I think they really put in the effort we were looking for. I'm excited to see them against an opponent this weekend and see what they are all about. We've got a good group and I'm excited to seeing them on the floor."
Hazelwood has said this year's Bulldogs are "the most athletic team I've ever coached at Mississippi State," and should be an interesting squad to watch.
Ball control and defense are the areas Hazelwood calls strengths.
"Our serving and passing which is really important in running our offense is going to be really solid," Hazelwood said. "We've struggled with that in the past. We haven't been as consistent with our serving, but we're looking pretty good this year. Defensively, we will frustrate opponents because we keep plays going. We'll see a much more balanced offensive attack and that's going to be really good."
Veterans in senior right side hitter Chanelle Baker and junior setter Paris Perret are expected to lead MSU. Middle blocker Lainey Wyman, a sophomore, is also a returning starter.
Hazelwood said there's a nice mix of veterans and youth.
"We expect (Baker and Perret) to really anchor everything that's going on, but a lot of these young ones are really stepping up to the plate," Hazelwood said. "I'm really excited because they are very athletic and really good at volleyball so they've got to learn and get experience at this level, but we are really thrilled with where they are right now."
Friday's match with Jackson State begins at 7 p.m., then on Saturday, the Bulldogs host Louisiana-Monroe at 12:30 p.m. and Kennesaw State at 7 p.m.
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