By JOEL COLEMAN
Hey everyone. Hope you’ve had a great weekend! To wrap it up (or maybe to get your new week off to a good start, depending on how you want to look at it) take a look inside the revamped MSU volleyball program with my story below. Make it a great week folks, and count your many blessings!
McFatrich changes expectations for Bulldogs volleyball team
By JOEL COLEMAN
In the shadow of Davis Wade Stadium, just a stone’s throw from the Junction, sits Mississippi State’s Newell-Grissom Building. Since 1997, the facility has served as the on-campus home of MSU’s volleyball program. About to begin its 19th season as the Bulldogs’ home base, Newell-Grissom is undergoing a series of improvements. From a new floor, to the freshly painted concourse, things are changing.
But it’s not just Newell-Grissom that’s getting a facelift.
Earlier this year, Mississippi State named David McFatrich the 11th head coach in program history. Already, the Woodbridge, Virginia native is instilling his style of play into the Bulldogs, pushing them and setting their sights higher than they’ve ever been before.
“Our goal is to make history,” McFatrich said. “Our goal is to make the NCAA Tournament. It has never been done here and they’ve been playing volleyball here a long time. I know that when some people hear that, they’re going to say ‘You’re out of your mind.’ But we don’t care what other people think.”
If anyone can make such lofty claims, it’s McFatrich. Now entering his fifth year as a collegiate head volleyball coach, his first four were nothing short of splendid at the University of Central Arkansas.
He took over the Sugar Bears in 2011 after spending four years as an assistant, and went on to record an overall record of 96-36 in his tenure. Among numerous accolades, McFatrich was named the 2013 Southland Conference Coach of the Year after his team became back-to-back regular season and conference tournament champions. The Sugar Bears went to the NCAA Tournament in both of those campaigns.
It’s that kind of success McFatrich envisions for Mississippi State, regardless of others’ impressions. Though MSU hasn’t even experienced a winning season since 2006, the Bulldogs’ new leader says the past doesn’t matter and postseason play is the absolutely the objective.
“We’re not looking sideways,” McFatrich said. “We’re not looking behind. We’re looking forward, and that’s our goal. We’re going to work our tails off to try and achieve it.”
To hear McFatrich speak, there’s little wonder why the Bulldogs think there are bright days just ahead. Fortunately, he had to spend little time getting his team to buy in, as they were already hoping to have a chance to work with McFatrich before he was even given the job.
“We were all kind of like a creeper team,” sophomore libero Payton Harris jokingly said. “We went and stalked everyone we thought could be the new coach. And I know for a fact we were all praying that we’d have (McFatrich) as our new head coach. When we found out, we were super excited to see everything that was going to happen because of how successful he was at his old school.”
After his hiring, McFatrich’s first order of business was to change the mindset of those within the program. Senior defensive specialist Ellen Stuart is among those that experienced firsthand the MSU struggles of recent years. She says the new voice of McFatrich has completely turned around the dynamics of the locker room.
“In the past, we’ve had some issues with upper classmen on the team where they were okay with losing,” Stuart said. “Coming in as freshmen or sophomores, they see that from the upper classmen and they’re like ‘Oh, I guess it is okay to lose.’
“I think our whole team culture has completely changed in the past six months. We know we’re not okay with (losing). If we play our best, and we play hard, sometimes the game doesn’t fall where we want it to fall, but we’re so much better now and I know none of us are going to be okay with losing.”
It seems like an almost insurmountable task – taking a program that has long been beaten down and defeated, and lifting them up, both mentally and strategically. McFatrich could’ve let someone else take over the task and look to maintain his already-successful run at UCA. He could’ve stayed in Conway and took part in the start of a beach volleyball program, another love of McFatrich’s. He admittedly battled with the decision to come to Mississippi State at first. But that all changed once he took a trip to Starkville.
“Every time I met somebody, I was blown away by how genuine they were, how sincere they were, how nice they were and how hospitable they were,” said McFatrich. “I looked at the campus and thought, ‘I know they haven’t had success, but this is a beautiful campus. I know they haven’t had success but they’ve promised me support.’
“Finally I got to the point where I thought no one deserves a winner in the Power 5 conferences and maybe all of D-I volleyball…more than Mississippi State. It’s just a place that you want to work your tail off for and you love it here. Once I (accepted), I haven’t looked back and couldn’t be happier.”
His players are sure glad McFatrich arrived at the decision that he did.
“We wanted him to be able to come in here and change us, and not a few years down the road,” Harris said. “Some people were talking about how, in four or five years, we were going to be successful. But no. We want to be successful now.
“We’re here to win. We’re going to compete in the SEC now. We’re not just going to be another team that every team thinks, ‘Easy game, easy win.” No. Not anymore. That’s not Mississippi State volleyball anymore.”