Bulldogs Sweep Bama with Friday Night Win

STARKVILLE, Miss. - A balanced offensive attack helped Mississippi State sweep to a straight-sets win (25-19, 25-22, 25-18) over SEC Western Division rival Alabama Friday night at the Newell-Grissom Building in the season finales for both teams. The Bulldogs, with wins in 3 of their last 4 matches, finished 9-22 overall and 5-15 in the SEC, while Alabama dropped to 8-22 and 6-14 in league play.

"This was the perfect ending of the season for our team," said first-year Bulldog head coach Jenny Hazelwood, who matched a school mark for first-year SEC wins by a State volleyball coach. "It was a complete team effort. And to be playing our best volleyball of the year at the end of the season after going through some adversity earlier in the year is really a tribute to these players."

"Some of the things we did and did consistently well tonight were things we weren't able to do early in the season," she continued. "And I'm so proud of our seniors, Dorey Gray and Ioana Demian, and the roles they played in the growth of our program this year."

The win gave State a split of its season series with Alabama and snapped a five-match losing skid to the Crimson Tide. Alabama had won 19 of its last 20 against State, including a come-from-behind 3-2 win Sept. 30 in Tuscaloosa.

A crowd of 502, the fifth-largest volleyball crowd at the Newell-Grissom Building, watched as the Bulldogs built early leads and for the most part maintained them throughout the contest.

Caitlin Rance, who paced the Bulldogs for the match with 10 kills on a .321 hitting night, delivered five of those point-producing swings in the opening set. Alabama took a 7-5 lead on the third of Alyssa Meuth's six kills in the stanza. The Tide's last lead in the set came at 13-12 on a service ace by Mary Catherine Aune. But Ashley Newsome knotted the score with a kill and Rance followed with a kill during the 5-0 MSU run that put State ahead to stay. Five Bulldogs had two or more kills in the set.

Meuth, who finished with a match-high 14 kills, delivered six more kills in the second set, the first of which put the Tide up 1-0. But the Bulldogs got on an early roll, and with Faith Steinwedell at serve reeled off the next six points for a 6-1 lead. Bama tied the score three times midway in the stanza and closed to within a point at 20-19 ion another kill by Meuth. But Steinwedell helped douse that rally with back-to-back kills and delivered another down the stretch as State took a 2-0 lead in the match with a 25-22 win.

The Bulldogs wasted little time in taking control of the third set, racing to a 6-0 advantage and building out a double-digit lead at 14-4. Freshman Chanelle Baker and junior Ashley Newsome drilled four kills each and the Bulldogs hit at a match-best .351 clip in rolling to a match-clinching 25-18 win. The Bulldogs registered their three service aces for the night in the third set, two by Steinwedell and one by Rance.

State hit .272 for the match, leading Alabama in kills (44-36) and total team blocks (6-4). Steinwedell and junior libero Kayla Woodard shared match honors with 14 digs each, though Alabama, with four players reaching double-digits, built up a 61-58 edge in digs.

Rance, with 10 kills, reached double figures in kills for the 10th time this season. Baker, a freshman, was next with nine kills, her second-highest total of the year. Steinwedell and Newsome added eight. Ioana Demian, one of two seniors on the team honored in pre-match ceremonies, finished with seven kills and with three blocks shared match honors with teammate Ashley Newsome.

The Bulldog win, coupled with a South Carolina loss at Florida, helped the Bulldogs finish tied with the Gamecocks for ninth place in the final SEC standings.

State's Friday night attendance was the seventh top-10 attendance figure at the Newell-Grissom Building registered this year.

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