KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- It had been 10 years since Mississippi State opened up the SEC season with a win.
The keyword being "had".
The Mississippi State volleyball Bulldogs (9-6, 1-0 SEC) reversed their SEC opener fortunes on Friday night, sweeping the Tennessee Volunteers (9-4, 0-1 SEC) at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville.
"That was such an impressive performance by our girls and I could not be more proud of how this team performed," coach David McFatrich said. "We talked pregame about coming out strong and we did just that. You have to give Tennessee credit, especially for playing so strong at the end, but these girls weren't going to let this one go without getting a win."
Evie Grace Singleton, Emily Hill and Jelena Vujcin continued to fuel the MSU attack as they have all season. Singleton led all Bulldogs with 12 kills, while Hill and Vujcin each turned in 10.
Vujcin and Singleton were the keys to the Bulldogs' opening set victory, as 6 of Vujcin's 10 kills came in the opener, while Singleton turned in 4. Play was tight until a 5-1 run pushed the Vols into a 14-11 lead and forced a State timeout. Tennessee would maintain a three-point lead until a Chelsea Duhs' kill kickstarted a Bulldog run that would push them ahead for good. UT would use one more run to draw within a point, but back-to-back kills from Vujcin sealed the deal as State went on to a 26-24 first set win.
The second set played much like the first, with a back-and-forth tone early on. This time State would lean on Singleton, as she paced the squad with 5 kills in the set. Vujcin and Singleton would spark a 7-1 run with consecutive kills and State would hold off another late UT rally to go into intermission with a 2-0 lead in the match, winning the second frame 25-23.
From there it was all Maroon and White, as Hill's 4 kills led a Bulldog third set attack that the Vols could not keep up with. MSU would push its lead to as much as nine, up 19-10, before Tennessee would make one final attempt to get back in the match. UT would get as close as two, fighting off four State match points and forcing the visitors to call for timeout. However, that would be all it wrote for UT, as Vujcin sealed the match with her 10th kill, giving MSU the set, 25-22, and the match, 3-0.
Sophomore Blossom Sato paced the Dogs in assists with 24 and digs with a season-high 12. The double-double is the third of the season for Sato.
Riley Duzenack turned in 14 assists to move up to sixth in the MSU freshman record book with 289 on the year.
Senior Bali Leffall-Young led MSU's 8.0 block night with 5 total, while Singleton contributed 3 total denials, tying a season high.
The stats will show an even-fought match by both sides, as MSU and UT tied in kills (42) and assists (40) and were within two of each other in aces and blocks. The Vols did however win the hitting percentage battle, with a .278 clip to MSU's .208, marking the first time this year that State has won a match when hitting worse than its opponent.
"I cannot say enough about how this was an excellent performance by the team as a whole.," McFatrich said. "From our attackers to our blockers and everything in between. Tonight was special. Now we have to get our sights set on Kentucky and work to close out the weekend on a high note."
The Bulldogs head north to Lexington, Ky., to face the Kentucky Wildcats on Sunday. The weekend finale is set for a 12:30 p.m. CT first serve and will be broadcasted on SEC Network +.