STARKVILLE — There already is a bit of desperation, a lot of frustration, and some shock in the voice of Mississippi State volleyball coach Jenny Hazelwood.
After a 1-2 weekend in its season-opening Maroon Classic tournament at Newell-Grissom Gymnasium, there”s legitimate arguments all of those feelings are justified.
“I don”t know if they”re afraid to make mistakes (or) if they can”t handle pressure, but I guaranteed them I will find seven people that can,” Hazelwood said.
Once MSU lost to University of Tennessee-Martin 3-1 (22-25, 25-16-25, 20-25, 23-25), a squad that finished last the past two seasons in the Ohio Valley Conference, Hazelwood made significant changes to the starting lineup for the final match of the Maroon Classic.
Junior transfer Hannah Wilkinson and freshman outside hitter Sara Temperilli saw significant playing time in the third match of the weekend, a 3-0 victory against Southeastern Louisiana (25-10, 25-9, 26-24).
“At one point I”m looking out there and realized, ”Well, there”s a whole of freshmen and sophomores out there”, and that”s a lot of fun,” Hazelwood said. “That means I”ve got the depth to come in. Some of those freshmen have been given that spot, so now they”ll hopefully work hard to keep it.”
The changes worked in the evening session as MSU cruised past Southeastern Louisiana.
“I think our mentality was a lot better and we did a better job of hustling to balls that we haven”t been going after,” said senior outside Caitlin Rance, who averaged 17 kills per match. Rance”s play drew double blocks on the outside designed to stop the 6-foot senior.
Middle hitter Lainey Wyman is one of the freshmen Hazelwood is counting on. Wyman shook her head no with assurance when asked Saturday night if she”d experienced this type of losing.
“This was a different feeling, and I really think we came out (against Southeastern Louisiana) not wanting to feel that way anymore,” Wyman said.
The Illinois product from Joliet Catholic High School in suburban Chicago is second on the team in kills (29) and leads the Bulldogs with 10 blocks.
“I came in here knowing a lot was expected out of me right away, and that”s why I work hard in the summer because I knew I could play and contribute right away,” Wyman said.
Entering a season that had players talking about the possibility of earning the school”s first NCAA tournament berth, the MSU coaches will shift their goals to finding an energetic and confident seven players to compete.
“My theme in the locker room is I”ve got three players that are playing consistent, two of them are freshmen (Bentley Whitte and Lainey Wyman) and (senior outside hitter) Caitlin Rance. That”s it,” Hazelwood said. “Not going to win ballgames like that.”
The Bulldogs looked out of sync offensively early and often against the Skyhawks, who played quality defense in the back row to create more offensive chances against MSU.
Hazelwood, a former setter, hopes sophomore setter Paris Perret can help the Bulldogs find their rhythm. In 1996, Hazelwood came from four hours south of Perret”s hometown in Texas to Starkville and was asked to be a premier player for a rebuilding MSU program
Hazelwood has been critical of Perret in part because she played the position 15 years ago and she wants Perret to be assertive.
“I”ve told her I”ve been there and if she plays with the confidence and aggressiveness that she did (against Southeastern Louisiana) then that”s how good we can be offensively,” Hazelwood said. “I admit I”m hard on her and it”s because she”s got so much talent.”
Perret had 20 of MSU”s 31 assists against Southeastern Louisiana. She also was second on the squad with 11 digs. Perret”s passing in the first two sets helped the Bulldogs to a .407 hitting percentage.
MSU will try to maintain that level of execution when it plays in the Community Bankers Classic on Sept. 2-3 at the University of the Pacific. The Bulldogs then will travel to a tournament Sept. 9-10 in Beaumont, Texas, at Lamar University.
To do that and to help ensure MSU makes something out of the 2011 season, Hazelwood needs to find a lineup she can trust.
“It”s more than desperation to find a way to win a match,” Hazelwood said. “They sat down and decided as a team what they want to be known for and clearly haven”t lived up to any of those.”
Tennessee-Martin defeated Southern Illinois 3-2 on Saturday to win the tournament title. Junior Kelly Hogan was named the event”s Most Valuable Player. Southern Illinois” Laura Thole and Bailey Yeager and Southeastern Louisiana”s Kinsey Williams joined Rance on the six-player all-tournament team. It was Rance”s fourth consecutive all-tournament team honor in the past two seasons.