The Mississippi State University Volleyball team hosted the Hail State Invitational this past week, dominating in all three matches against Jackson State University, the University of North Florida and University of Alabama at Birmingham. These victories were a small part in MSU's goal of promoting the sport in Mississippi.
In general, Mississippi has been behind in the popularity and promotion of volleyball at a highly competitive level. This has mainly been due to the high costs of participating in club volleyball being a deterrent in Mississippi, according to Becky Gillette in the Mississippi Business Journal. While the sport has been growing quickly in Mississippi recently, the slow growth in the start of its popularity has put the state far behind others competitively.
The Mississippi State volleyball program has certainly been affected by the low popularity of volleyball in Mississippi among both potential athletes and fans. However, head coach Julie Darty has said they are continually working to promote the growth of the sport throughout Starkville and Mississippi as a whole.
“We are pulling out all the stops to get people in this gym," Darty said. "It’s a free ticket, we schedule around football and I believe it’s a really fast-paced and energetic sport. I think we are really open in letting people know that we really appreciate all the support."
The growing popularity of volleyball among fans, especially in Starkville, has been much appreciated by the team. Gabby Waden, a sophomore middle blocker from Columbia, South Carolina, said that the addition of the Hail State Invitational Tournament as the second non-conference tournament at home was seen as a great opportunity for fans to see and support the team.
“Everyone loves sports in Starkville, so getting our volleyball program [in Starkville] definitely helps our fans come to our games and be a lot more supportive,” Waden said.
Not only is MSU's program spreading the name of volleyball throughout the state by reaching out to fans, it is also through supporting high school and club coaches and players throughout the state. Darty said she believes supporting the players in Mississippi now will help build the public’s belief in volleyball in Mississippi.
“It’s going to take time, just like it is building this program, but getting kids from Mississippi like Callie Minshew to come to a program in the state It’s all about pouring into the coaches and the players in the state,” Darty said.
Currently, the MSU volleyball team has only one player from Mississippi, freshman outside hitter Callie Minshew from Brandon. Minshew is a huge proponent of taking advantage of the recent growth of volleyball in Mississippi through club teams and other means, and hopes volleyball can continue to grow and improve in the years to come.
“It took a lot for volleyball to get big in Mississippi,” Minshew said. “I just hope all the younger girls out there appreciate the growing club opportunities and use them so that hopefully the name of volleyball will get out in Mississippi.”