Mississippi State’s volleyball team nearly forgot what it felt like to win at home.
The Bulldogs got its first victory since a five-set road win at Georgia on Oct. 3 and are now in a three-way tie in the Southeastern Conference for seventh place.
Prior to Wednesday night’s four-set victory over Alabama, Mississippi State had gone nearly a month without leaving Newell-Grissom Gymnasium with a smile.
“We’ve had so many close matches so it’s been a matter of doing good things mixed in with not very good that’s killed us,” Mississippi State head coach Jenny Hazelwood said. “I was just proud of how when they got down, they refused to lose.”
The Bulldogs (11-10, 3-7 in Southeastern Conference) were able to mentally put a trio of consecutive straight-set losses behind them thanks to a more productive offensive night for their outside hitters.
MSU connected on nearly 21 percent of its offensive chances, a 4-point difference than they had averaged throughout the 2010 season. Caitlin Rance’s double-double effort of 17 kills and 12 digs led the Bulldogs effort.
“She has been so steady but I think if we went back and looked it’s almost always the clutch point that she’s scoring,” Hazelwood said. “The other teams know we’re going to her and she still goes and gets a kill.”
State won a back-and-forth first set against the Crimson Tide (9-11, 1-9) 25-23 after losing the opening frame of every match since defeating South Florida on Sept. 11 in a five-set thriller to open the second day of the Saluki Invitational hosted by Southern Illinois.
“I think that set the tone early that this is our house and we’re going to take this match,” Hazelwood said. “It took us to set that standard for ourselves that we have to go out and make it happen.”
Alabama’s defense continued to neutralize State’s middle hitting including senior Ashley Newsome as 6-foot-2 redshirt sophomore Leigh Moyer recorded three blocks, six digs and 11 kills through the heart of the Bulldogs defense. The Crimson Tide used that defensive momentum into a 25-23 second-set victory.
State came out of the locker room to dominate the third set to the tune of 25-18 while finishing the performance with a powerful middle kill from Newsome and a pair of Alabama service errors. The Bulldogs only made one hitting error after earning several wide-open hitting opportunities due to better communication after the break.
“We were up in that second set and Alabama eventually only earned 11 or 12 points total,” Hazelwood said. “I just told them if we don’t make the errors and give them points, it’s not even close.”
With her team-leading 15 digs during the evening, Mississippi State senior libero Kayla Woodard moved to four short of fourth place in school history behind All-SEC standout Jannifer Shupe, who starred at MSU from 1996-99.
State’s power game on the outside showed up late as the Bulldogs rallied from six points down to take a dramatic 27-25 fourth-set victory.
Wednesday night marked the first time that State won a match in less than five sets since MSU defeated UT-Arlington in four sets on Sept. 4 to finish the Maverick Invitational.
The Bulldogs will try for their first winning streak in Starkville since winning the season-opening MSU Maroon Classic in August when an Ole Miss (14-5, 8-2) squad that’s receiving votes in the latest Coaches’ poll comes in Friday night to open up the campus’ Homecoming festivities.