STARKVILLE — Dorey Gray thought she knew how to set a volleyball.
The Mississippi State senior didn”t think she was perfect, by any means, but after seven or eight years she believed she was proficient as a setter.
In less than a year, MSU first-year coach Jenny Hazelwood has introduced Gray to a new way of playing her position.
Gray said the results have transformed her into a better player.
“I have doubled if not tripled my knowledge of setting,” Gray said. “I never realized how much I had to pay attention to the other side.”
Gray and her teammates will put everything they have learned from Hazelwood on display for the first time at 7 tonight when they play host to Jackson State in the MSU Maroon Classic.
The tournament is the first of three two-day events MSU will have before it begins its 20-game Southeastern Conference schedule.
For Gray, the tournament will be a great opportunity for her to showcase a new approach she hopes will help spark the Lady Bulldogs” offense.
“I think the difference is having a setter as coach,” Gray said. “We have done footwork in the past with other coaches, but because they weren”t setters it was taught from a different perspective, so I never quite grasped it because it wasn”t from the mind-set of a setter.
“Now that I have a setter as a coach, it is much easier to understand why footwork is so important and why getting there makes a difference.”
Gray said she grasped Hazelwood”s approach to setting through repetition. She said her goal now is to see the opponent”s middle blocker on the other side of the net and to set her teammates based on that player.
To do that, she said has to move her feet to put herself perpendicular to the net and an arm”s length away from it.
Hazelwood said the key is for Gray”s feet to be squared to the outside hitter target so she can put the team”s hitters in the best position to be successful.
She said a setter”s ability to consistently square her feet the same way will make it difficult for a middle blocker to determine where the ball will be set.
“If our girls get their balance under the ball before they have to set it, they really can set any of our three hitters and give us the best opportunity to put a ball away against, hopefully, one blocker,” Hazelwood said.
Gray played in 30 matches and 99 sets last year and led MSU (6-25, 1-19 in the SEC) with 636 assists. Unfortunately, MSU had an attack percentage of just .133. (Attack percentage gauges a team”s offensive efficiency. A percentage near .300 is considered very good.)
Hazelwood, who played at MSU from 1996-99, still owns the school”s all-time records for assists in a match, season, and career. She said Gray”s passion for the game has made it easy to help her learn new skills or ways of doing things.
“We talk a lot about strategy and why,” Hazelwood said. “If she understands the why, she is going to be more effective in that split-second decision.”
In addition to learning how to locate the middle blocker and to read the court better, Gray said she also is picking up strategical aspects of the game, including when is the best time to set a teammate.
Hazelwood said Gray is a “naturally a gifted athlete” who made significant gains in her footwork in the offseason and in the preseason. She said Gray had to learn what she expected from a setter and what she believes will help the Lady Bulldogs achieve the most success given the players we have on the court and then implement those concepts.
“She has a whatever-it-takes mentality,” Hazelwood said. “She is a big sponge. She wants to know what she has to do and then she will work her tail off to make sure she is good at it.”
Gray is pleased with the progress she has made, but she said good isn”t good enough.
“It has been a challenge. It is not something that has come easy to me, especially after I have been setting for seven or eight years and then trying to change,” Gray said. “But I know it is going to make me a better setter, so I don”t care how hard it is. I am going to do it until I get it. I am getting better at it, but I want to be perfect.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.