STARKVILLE, Miss. -- If you hadn't heard of Emily Hill, chances are you have now after Friday night's 3-1 victory by Mississippi State (10-7, 2-1 SEC) against the Auburn Tigers (7-9 1-2 SEC).
The Bulldog freshman was electric from start to finish, tallying a career-high 25 kills and one major solo block to lead the Dogs to the four-set victory and the best start to SEC play since 2004 on Friday night at Newell-Grissom. The win also snapped a six-match losing streak to the Tigers and marked the first win against AU in Starkville since 2011.
"I cannot say enough about Emily's performance," MSU coach David McFatrich said. "She was on another level all night and was absolutely huge for us. We've said it from the beginning that she's going to be a special player here for years to come. She proves that more and more with every match."
Hill also tallied 11 digs to earn her third double-double of the season. She wasn't the only Bulldog to double up on Friday night, as Blossom Sato and Cheyenne Spell also earned double-doubles. Sato earned 45 assists and a season-high 16 digs for her fourth double-double of the year, while Spell doubled up for the first time in her career with 16 digs and a career-high 10 assists.
Friday's first set was Auburn's to lose, as the Tigers held the lead and momentum for much of the opening frame. State was able to tie the set up several times, but could never get back into the lead after a 2-1 start, as AU went on to open the match with a 2-1 lead behind a 25-22 first-set win.
The second set proved much closer, as the two squads battled back-and-forth early on. State would push out to a 14-10 lead. Auburn would respond with a 7-1 run that would put the visitors out in front and their eyes on a 2-0 lead. However, the Dogs would answer right back, pulling back in front at 24-23. The two sides would then trade points, as Auburn fought off four MSU set points. Then enter Evie Grace Singleton and Hill, who went back-to-back with kills to seal the set, 29-27, and tie the match at 1-1.
With the match on level ground, the two teams continued their tight play in the third set. Auburn seemed to gain a late advantage, going up 20-17 on the Dogs. Then a service error by the Tigers opened the flood gates, as MSU went on an 8-0 run, highlighted by 3 kills from Hill to take the set, 25-20, and a 2-1 lead in the match.
The night's final frame was a set of runs, as both sides traded streaks, not allowing anyone to gain firm footing. Up 21-20, the Tigers looked to pull away, but Singleton and Jelena Vujcin had consecutive kills, followed by a devastating solo block by Hill to put MSU up 23-21 and force an AU timeout. The Tigers would fight off several match points to tie things up at 24-24, but Jazmyne Johnson connected for her eighth kill and AU fired long on a lengthy rally to give the set (26-24) and the match (3-1) to the Dogs.
"That match got your heart racing from the get go and proved how exciting SEC volleyball is on any given night," McFatrich said.
Singleton and Vujcin rounded out the MSU attack with 18 and 11 kills, respectively. This is now the fourth-straight match that Hill, Singleton and Vujcin have all connected for double-digit kills.
The service line continued to be Singleton's best friend, as she tallied a trio of aces on the night, moving her season total to 31. Friday was her sixth match of the season with at least 3 aces.
"All in all, I'm proud of our girls for not losing their focus after that first set. They cam back strong and played their hearts out," McFatrich said. "This is another big win for them and for Mississippi State. Now we're set on continuing this run on Sunday against Alabama."
The Dogs and Crimson Tide will face off at 3 p.m. CT at The Griss. The match will be MSU's first nationally-televised match, coming to fans live on the SEC Network.