January 11, 2018 10:18:29 AM
Brett Hudson - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State volleyball program has won 18 Southeastern Conference matches in the last six seasons.
The Bulldogs, who are coming off a 10-23 season, have never advanced to the NCAA tournament.
Julie Darty doesn't care.
Darty made it clear Wednesday that history no longer matters when she was introduced as MSU's 12th volleyball coach.
"I'm young, so I don't think it's the right thing to do to open up the history books and look back at the history of the program," Darty said. "I think it's a fresh start. It's a clean slate. We have so much potential. We have so much growth. We're at ground zero, and I think that's a good place to be."
Darty replaces David McFatrich, who resigned in November after going 1-17 in the SEC in 2017 and 13-41 in conference in three years.
Darty, who spent two years as an assistant coach at South Carolina, hopes to use the four years experience she gained as head coach at Jacksonville to reverse MSU's fortunes.
Darty's time at Jacksonville -- in which she led the program to one NCAA tournament appearance -- convinced MSU Director of Athletics John Cohen.
"She's a rising star in her profession. We were looking for that person," he said.
Darty wants a team that will take risks in its service game and, more importantly, focus on the first thing first: passing.
"We're going to be a first-contact-driven team. The first couple of practices, I might bore them to death. We might not lift our arms to swing at a ball for a long time," Darty said. "If anybody watched the national championship game, they struggle with passing at the highest level, Nebraska and Florida. That's still something those coaches talk about all the time. If that's something they're talking about, it's something we're going to practice in our gym."
Cohen said he was also looking for "a tireless recruiter." Finding players to transform MSU is Darty's biggest priority.
"We've got to be better. I think there are a lot of pockets around the country we haven't hit," Darty said. "I leave Friday and you'll probably see me in May."
Darty plans to use her time at Jacksonville as a primer to help her get started in Starkville. She said the program at Jacksonville was "regionally irrelevant" when she took over in 2014. In four seasons, Darty won 58 matches, coached 11 All-Atlantic Sun Conference honorees, including five first-team selections, five ASUN all-tournament selections, and three ASUN All-Academic Team members.
This past season, Darty guided the Dolphins to an 18-10 record and a 9-2 home mark. Following Hurricane Irma, the Dolphins were forced to practice and to play in area gymnasiums after Swisher Gymnasium was unplayable for much of the season.
Darty knows life will be different in the SEC. She also knows she will face a challenge when she tries to push the MSU brand into the bigger volleyball recruiting circles.
"I have some really great connections with club coordinators and one of the themes we're going to talk about when my staff gets here is branding and saturating," Darty said. "We're going to saturate the places that love us and we're going to bleed maroon and white in their gyms and in their clubs. We're going to saturate them so much that all they can talk about is the change that's going on at Mississippi State.
"We're going to go after kids we have no business going after, but when she says yes, we're going to make it our business to give her a great experience here. I know we're going to get told no early on, but once we get that first yes, it's going to be really special."
Darty said she accepted the MSU job because it's a project and she wants to make a lasting impact on the program.
"It's a challenge," Darty said. "I think this is a really great chance to re-brand who we are as a program."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson