STARKVILLE, Miss. - Exactly two months ago, the Mississippi State volleyball program earned a straight-sets victory in Oxford that stood as the highlight of a young season.
Today may have been a little bit sweeter.
Taking the court for the final time in 2015, the Mississippi State Bulldogs (17-15, 6-12 SEC) took down in-state rival Ole Miss (22-11, 8-10 SEC), 3-1, to secure the program's first winning season since 2006.
"That was an unbelievable match by our girls. I honestly could not be more proud of how they played today and how they've ended this season," MSU first-year coach David McFatrich said. "I'm especially happy for our seniors, who go out on such a high note. They were crucial in building this foundation this season. Where we go from here is thanks to their hard work and dedication."
McFatrich finished his first season with the Maroon and White with a 17-15 record, the same as his first year at Central Arkansas. It marks the best season by a head coach in their first year at MSU. McFatrich is the only coach in Bulldog volleyball history to record a winning season in his first year.
The Bulldogs used a career-high 25 kills and 27.0 points from senior Alex Warren, coupled with a season-high 46 assists from Shelby Anderton and a season-high tying 5 blocks from Emily Howard to put away their rivals from Oxford in four sets.
Friday's win secured back-to-back victories against Ole Miss for the first time since 2009. It is also MSU's third-straight SEC triumph, the first time the Bulldogs have done so since 2007. State's 17 wins and 10 home victories both match totals from the 2006 season.
Warren was once again the star of the show, as she collected at least 20 kills for the second time in three matches and for the fourth time this season. Her 25 kills surpasses her previous career high of 23 set at Alabama on Sept. 23. The senior tallied at least 4 kills in each set and finished off the night with 10 in the fourth frame, the second time this season she's acquired double-digit kills in a set.
After starting down 2-0 in the first set, the Bulldogs turned on the jets, rushing out to a 6-2 lead to force an Ole Miss timeout. The Rebels fought back numerous times, but were unable to get back in the lead, as two kills from Evie Grace Singleton gave MSU set point and then the victory, 25-21.
Up 1-0 in the match, State did not relent en route to putting together it's best set of the match. Behind 6 kills from Warren, 4 from Singleton and 3 from both Jazmyne Johnson and Chelsea Duhs, the Bulldogs hit .414 compared to Ole Miss' .192 to push ahead 2-0 in the match. The set featured three ties early on, but MSU would push ahead by as much as eight, up 21-13. Warren would put up 3 kills to lead MSU's last push in the set, securing a 2-0 lead with a 25-18 second-set victory.
Ole Miss seemed to grab the momentum coming out of intermission, as it put up a .361 clip and never let MSU lead to cut the MSU's match lead to one. State made a number of late runs, but could only come within two, as the Rebels earned a 25-20 third-set win to force a fourth set.
Faced with a situation similar to the Tennessee and Auburn matches earlier this season, the Bulldogs did not let the pressure get to them. Besides an 8-8 tie early on, MSU kept the Rebels at bay in the match's final frame. Warren's 10 kills and .438 attacking percentage, along with Howard's 4 blocks, 2 being solos, secured the victory for the Bulldogs. A late kill brought Ole Miss within one, down 24-23, but Singleton put the final ball away with force, locking in a 25-23 fourth-set win and a 3-1 match victory.
Singleton tallied 16 kills for the match and added a pair of aces to total 18.0 points for the match. She finishes the season with a team-leading 378 kills, 46 aces and 441.5 total points. Warren finishes the year close behind with 371 kills, 25 aces and 432.5 total points.
For her career, Warren finishes with 889 kills, 25 aces, 212 digs, 232 blocks and 1052.0 total points.
Howard's 5 total blocks wraps her career with 250 total blocks to go along with 544 kills.
Leading the match in assists, Anderton's 46 are an MSU-high for the senior and round out her career total at 2,851.
Senior Amber Gass finishes her Bulldog career with 103 digs, 14 aces and 11 assists, while senior Ellen Stuart wraps up her four years with 155 digs, and 19 aces.
Jazmyne Johnson earned 3 total blocks tonight, along with Warren and Duhs, to bring MSU's total to 10.0, marking State's first double-digit blocks match since defeating Troy on Nov. 2.
Payton Harris led all players with 15 digs, bringing her career total to 1,169. She will be 13 short of ninth place on the MSU career digs list when her junior season kicks off next fall.
"I'm very proud of this entire group for their heart and soul throughout the entire season," McFatrich said. "There were rough patches along the way, but they stayed strong and stayed together through it all, ending this year on the best possible note."
"Now it's time to get prepared for next year. There's a lot of work to be done between now and next fall but we cannot wait to get year going."