STARKVILLE, Miss. - Caitlin Rance and Lainey Wyman combined for 33 kills and six blocks Sunday afternoon as Mississippi State (6-5, 1-1 SEC) bested South Carolina (9-2, 0-1 SEC) in a five-set Southeastern Conference volleyball match at the Newell-Grissom Building.
The win gave the Bulldogs a split of their SEC opening weekend competition after dropping a 3-0 decision Friday night to No. 7 Florida. State has now won five of its last six matches, two of those being five-set affairs.
"It was good to close out the weekend with a win like this," said MSU head coach Jenny Hazelwood. "We played solidly in the first two sets and then it seemed like we lost our intensity after going up 2-0. But we made some adjustments and I was proud of the way we regained our focus and to play a pretty dominant fifth set."
The third-year MSU head coach also singled out the play of Caitlin Rance, who paced MSU in kills for the 11th time in as many matches this season. "Caitlin has the grit and the determination to get the job done," she said. "Our opponents know that she is our go-to player, and still she consistently gets the job done for us."
Rance finished with a match-high 17 kills and 16 digs for her team-leading fifth double-double of the year just ahead of Wyman with 16 kills. Both players recorded three blocks. Rance, from Kingwood, Texas, leads the club with 191 kills while Wyman, a freshman from Plainfield, Ill., has 119 kills and 48 total blocks.
The match was punctuated by momentum swings, as the Bulldogs claimed 25-16 and 25-17 wins for a 2-0 match lead at the break before the Gamecocks rebounded to even the score with a pair of 25-23 decisions in the third and fourth sets before State settled the issue with a solid 15-8 match-clinching win in the final frame.
Helped along by a service error and three consecutive USC attack errors, State bolted to a 7-1 lead and never trailed in taking the opening set 25-16. Rance set the pace with four kills in the frame and matched that total in the second set in State's 25-17 win. The Bulldogs led by as many as five in the early going before USC closed to within one at 13-12. State went on a 6-1 spree to stretch the lead and with Rance's eighth kill of the day closed the set with a 25-17 win.
A lineup shuffle by the Gamecocks triggered a shift in momentum as South Carolina battled back after the break. Seven USC players had two or more kills and the SEC East team hit at a match-best .438 clip in taking the third set 25-23. The Gamecocks led throughout the third stanza, but State rallied to take a 22-21 advantage on a Faith Steinwedell kill. The Gamecocks followed up a timeout with set-closing 4-1 run.
State hit a match-low .167 in a closely-contested fourth set that featured nine ties, the last at 16-16. USC broke that deadlock during a 4-0 run and led by as many as five before evening the match with a 25-23 win.
The Bulldogs wasted little time taking control of the deciding fifth set. Caitlin Rance blocked an attack by Bethanie Thomas for a 4-1 State advantage and the Bulldogs never trailed in locking up their initial SEC win of the campaign with a 15-8 win.
Senior middle Hannah Wilkinson recorded a career-best 13 kills with one attack error on a sizzling .706 hitting performance. Wilkinson's strong play at the net resulted in a match-best six blocks (two solos/four assisted blocks). She now sports a league-best .524 attack percentage. Wilkinson had 20 kills, a team-best eight blocks and hit at a remarkable .731 clip in her first two SEC matches.
Sophomore setter Paris Perret also turned in a fifth double-double performance that included 50 assists and 17 digs. Freshman libero Bentley Witte set a career-best and shared match honors on defense with 19 digs. State compiled a 78-74 edge in digs against South Carolina, which entered the match as the SEC's leader in digs.
The Bulldogs held a distinct advantage at the serving line, where the Bulldogs served up seven aces - three by Wyman, and South Carolina lost a point 13 times on service errors. State also took a commanding edge at the net with a 13-3 lead in total team blocking.
Teresa Stenlund had 14 kills and Juliette Thevenin 12 with 11 digs to pace USC. Paige Wheeler led the Gamecocks on defense with 19 digs.
The Bulldogs hit the road for their next four matches over the next two weekends, beginning with this weekend's journey to Arkansas (Sept. 23) and LSU (Sept. 25). MSU hosts Georgia (Oct. 7) and Georgia (Oct. 9) in their next competition at the Newell-Grissom Building.