By LEE ADAMS
The Mississippi State Bulldogs bounced back in their third match of the Maroon Classic to pick up their first win of the season.
MSU opened their 2011 volleyball season the weekend, and things got off to a slow start and they dropped their first two matches to Southern Illinois and UT-Martin. After starting the weekend 0-2, the Bulldogs bounced back with a 3-0 win over Southeastern Louisiana.
“All around we played at a much higher level tonight,” said head coach Jenny Hazelwood. “The nicest things I saw in that match was hustle and heart.”
After dropping the first two matches of the season, the Bulldogs refocused before going into the third match.
“Our mentality was a lot better,” said MSU senior Cailtin Rance. “We came in saying that nothing was going to hit the ground and we were going to go all out.”
They went all out early on as they jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first set. Later in the set, Rance picked up one her 14 kills to give the Bulldogs a 9-2 lead, before she eventually finished off the Lions with a little tip over the Lion defenders, giving State the 25-10 win.
The Bulldogs led the entire first set, but had to break the tie early in the second set. After breaking the tie, they cruised to 25-9 set win, and set themselves up for what appeared to be an easy win.
Despite being in control and dominating the first two sets, the Bulldogs had to battle in the third. The third set had seven lead changes and was tied at 23, making the final few points critical for both teams.
Then the Lions took the lead, but quickly gave it up when the ensuing serve went out of bounds. With the set tied at 24, Alex Scott went to the serve for the Bulldogs.
Scott’s first serve hit one Lion player and fell to the ground giving State the 25-24 lead. After a short volley, the Lions hit the ball into the net it fell to the ground, giving the Bulldogs the third set 26-24 and the 3-0 match win.
The Lions late comeback taught the Bulldogs a lesson of sorts.
“We know we can’t let up,” said Rance. “Even in that last game we should have pushed a little more and not let it get as close.”
The Bulldogs execution seemed to improve from their first two matches.
“Overall it was great,” said Hazelwood about the execution against the Lions. “Our servers were pretty solid, but we struggled a lot more in the third because our passing broke down a bit.”
Rance led the Bulldogs in the Maroon Classic with 52 total kills. She added 39 digs and picked up three double doubles. Hillary Parker led the team with 43 digs.
The Bulldogs will hit the road the next two weekends but will return home on September 16 to start SEC play against a tough Florida team.
Mississippi State 1
Before Mississippi State experienced the success of winning its final match of 2011 Maroon Classic, it was humbled because of a poor effort against the University of Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks Saturday afternoon.
The Skyhawks didn’t seem intimidated at all coming into a Southeastern Conference volleyball environment, while the Bulldogs looked very timid in their own building.
Hazelwood said her team failed to show the heart necessary to be competitive in the loss.
As a former player with the Bulldogs, Hazelwood understands the type of intensity that matches present, no matter who the opponent.
“Earlier in the week, we were doing drills and putting pressure on them,” Hazelwood said. “I know what matches are like. There’s going to be pressure. Some of the girls just don’t understand that’s college volleyball. It’s SEC volleyball for sure, but it’s college volleyball, but no matter what level you’re at, if a team plays with a lot of heart, they can out-play you. It’s because they have more heart than you do. I want seven people to play with the heart that you’ve got to have.”
The Bulldogs struggled out of the gate against the Skyhawks with a minus-.025 hitting percentage and lost the first set 25-22.
UT-Martin coach Darrin McLure said the key to winning the match was coming out in the first set strong and was glad his squad did.
“I told them to just play hard,” McLure said. “What do we have to lose coming in here to play Mississippi State. I’m proud of the girls because they played hard. We’re playing with no fear right now.
“It lets the other schools in our conference know that maybe we are doing some good things.”
Despite rebounding to take the second set fairly easily 25-16, MSU couldn’t continue that momentum by falling 25-20 and 25-23 the next two sets.
Hazelwood hoped that the Bulldogs would find a way to play better after losing the season-opener Friday night, but admitted that the overall effort was worse.
Other than the play of freshman Bentley Witte, freshman Lainey Wyman and Rance, Hazelwood said the rest of the team struggled.
Hazelwood especially took note of the play of Witte, who had 13 digs.
“She was fantastic,” Hazelwood said. “Every ball that was hit at her, she dug it so we could run our offense. She passed every ball she could pass and served really tough.”
Rance had 16 kills and 10 digs, while Wyman chipped in nine kills.
“I’ve got three people right now that play consistent, two of them are freshmen,” Hazelwood said. “I don’t think we’re always making good setting decisions and we have hitters who are just not stepping up when they do get chances. It’s a big combination.
“What I told them is I don’t know if they are afraid to make a mistake or they can’t handle pressure. I told them that I guarantee I will find seven people who can. We’ve got a pretty big bench over there and we’re going to see some different faces.”
It is the hope of Hazelwood that MSU finds out its identity before it gets too far into the season.
“It’s not desperation of trying to win a match, but trying to find an identity of what we want to be about,” Hazelwood said. “They sat down in the spring and decided some of the team identity and what they want to be known for. So far, we haven’t lived up to any of those.”
(Editor’s Note: SDN sports editor Danny P. Smith contributed to this story.)