Volleyball Bulldogs Stun USC on the Road, 3-0

COLUMBIA, S.C. --- Mississippi State opened its 2004 Southeastern Conference volleyball season in impressive fashion Friday night, stunning South Carolina 3-0 before a boisterous crowd of 644 at USC's Volleyball Competition Center. The win snapped a 12-match series win streak by USC, dating back to 1994 and marked just the second time that the Bulldogs won an SEC season opener.<P>

"I can't express how proud I am of this team," said first-year head coach Tina Seals. "We've talked a lot about taking steps towards improving our program, and tonight we made a big step."

State claimed the opening game 33-31, never trailed in winning game two 30-27, and scored the final three points of a close battle to register a 30-28 win in the match-clinching third game.

The Bulldogs out-hit the Gamecocks (7-3, 0-1 SEC) .171 to .141, with junior Rachael Cooper leading the way with 13 kills. Five of those came in the opening stanza. A kill by Kelly Willinger gave MSU a 17-16 lead. State built up a 29-23 advantage only to watch USC go on a 6-0 run to tie the game. A Bulldog hitting error gave USC a 31-30 lead, but State reeled off three straight points to win the opening game 33-31.

"It was important for us to find a way to finish the match, which we did," said Seals. A kill by Orshi Kriegel evened the score at 31-31 and a pair of USC hitting errors enabled MSU to win the opening game.

The Bulldogs bolted to a 7-2 lead in game two and never trailed, with Kriegel chipping in four of her nine kills in the period. State led by as much as eight three times in the period, taking a 14-6 advantage on a a kill by Christa Fulenwider. The rookie middle blocker finished with six kills on a .357 hitting night and paced MSU at the net with five blocks, including two solos. USC closed to within two down the stretch but gave up the winning 30th point on one of its seven service errors.

The Bulldogs and Gamecocks battled back and forth in a closely-contested third period that featured seven lead changes and 17 tie scores.

Andrea Mead and Erin Seago combined on a block that created the last tie at 28-28, and a block by Fulenwider produced the match-clinching 30th point for State.

Willinger had seven kills and Fulenwider and Seago had six each for State. Fulenwider served up four of MSU's eight aces, while Megan Lukasek paced the MSU defense with 10 digs, just ahead of Ashley Sledge with eight.

Shonda Cole took match honors with 15 kills but also had 10 hitting errors. Sarah Morgan registered a double-double with 11 kills and a match-high 16 digs.

"I have to give a lot of credit for this win to our assistant coaches Jozsef Forman and Jason Skoch," said Seals. "They did a great job of putting together a game plan and our kids believed in it and executed it very well. We'll enjoy this win tonight and then get back to business tomorrow," said Seals.

Mississippi State continues its SEC season-opening weekend road trip Sunday in Knoxville, Tenn., meeting No. 24 Tennessee (11-1, 1-0 SEC) in a 2 p.m. (ET) match.

MISSISSIPPI STATE 3, SOUTH CAROLINA 0

MSU 8-5, 1-0 SEC) 33 30 30
USC (7-3, 0-1 SEC) 31 27 28


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