In a way Saturday was a historic night at Newell-Grissom Gymnasium as two Mississippi State head coaches got notable victories. One for a career and one for a day.
In the afternoon, MSU volleyball head coach Jenny Hazelwood picked up her 100th career victory as a Division 1 head coach at her alma mater. Hours later during the evening session of the Maroon Classic, Bulldogs football coach Dan Mullen notched his first-ever victory as a volleyball guest coach.
“I have a better record I guess as a volleyball coach than a football coach,” Mullen said. “I was intense, I like to win. It was hard. I tried to keep my mouth closed and tried to stay as calm as possible.”
In an attempt for a marketing push for the MSU volleyball program, the school’s second-year head football coach made an appearance to the volleyball complex for a game accompanied by athletic director Scott Stricklin to watch the Bulldogs defeat Montana (2-2) in 30-28, 25-18, 25-22.
Mullen and his MSU squad officially open up its 2010 slate a couple of blocks away at Davis-Wade Stadium on Saturday evening against Memphis.
“I think winning breeds winning and all out athletes eat together, train together and study together,” Mullen said. “We expect every program here to be at a high level.”
Mullen got a courtside view of arguably the most exciting first set of the tournament as the Bulldogs fought off multiple match points from Montana to take the first set 30-28.
State would use the momentum for the opening set to cruise to a sweep thanks to a team-high 17 kills by junior outside hitter Caitlin Rance.
“We have depth and that’s so key because teams can’t focus on just one hitter,” Rance said.
Mississippi State (4-0) completed a four-game sweep of its own two-day event with a pair of dominating victories over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Montana Saturday evening.
Hazelwood, a former all-conference setter at MSU, got to the century mark in the afternoon match after a four-set victory over Corpus Christi that included the Bulldogs losing their first set of the 2010 season and responding to dominate the final three sets.
“We knew this match would be the toughest of the four when it is played with us being here all morning and having to wait around to play after winning two yesterday,” Hazelwood said.
In the first set against the Islanders, MSU had nine attack errors and a hitting percentage of .026 that turned an even beginning to the match into the host team dropping the opening set 25-19.
“What I’m most proud of is even with the adversity they hung in, preserved and toughed it out,” Hazelwood said. “These 14 people get along better than any group I’ve ever coached and in this sport specifically that’s so key.”
It was the Bulldogs veterans that led the comeback charge as Rance led a trio of Bulldogs with double-figure kills totals as State amassed a 56-36 advantage in that category. Rance registered a season-best 16 while junior Faith Steinwedell added 15 and senior Ashley Newsome 12.
“This is probably the best we’ve ever started off since I’ve been here,” Rance said. “We had fun and did really well with a great crowd.”
In some potentially unfortunate injury news, Steinwedell needed to be helped off the court early in the evening match against Montana while trainers looked at her right knee. Steinwedell returned to the bench with crutches as the MSU medical staff wrapped her knee in ice.
“We think she’ll be fine,” Hazelwood said. “It’s not an ACL deal and it could be few weeks or so.”
She will be reevaluated before they leave for the UT-Arlington Hilton Invitational next weekend. The junior from LaJolla, Calif., has already fully recovered from a season-ending injury to the opposite knee two years ago.