STARKVILLE, Miss. - When Evie Grace Singleton's final attack hit the ground on Sunday afternoon, it meant much more than just another win for Mississippi State volleyball.
That kill finished off a five-set victory by the Bulldogs (11-7, 3-1 SEC) against the Alabama Crimson Tide (13-4, 2-2 SEC) and in turn earned the best start to SEC play in school history.
"Wow. That match was amazing all the way around. That is what SEC volleyball is all about," MSU coach David McFatrich said. "To say that this win doesn't mean a lot to us would be a lie. I'm so happy for these girls, our staff and Mississippi State."
The Bulldogs saw one of their more complete efforts this season, as four players tallied double-digits kills, while defensively the team tied a season high with 15.0 total blocks.
Leading State was junior Jelena Vujcin, who paced State with 16 kills, while Singleton (14), Emily Hill (13) and Jazmyne Johnson (11) followed close behind. Johnson also turned in a career night on defense, pacing MSU's blocking tirade with a career-high 11 denials. Singleton also got in on the blocking fun with a career-high 6 blocks.
Sunday got off to one of the best starts the Dogs have put together so far this year, jumping ahead immediately and never relinquishing the lead. The Dogs opened up 5-1 to force an Alabama timeout and kept pouring it on from there, going up as much as nine several times before closing out the set with a 25-15 win.
The second set opened up just like the first, as the Dogs pushed ahead to a 14-6 lead. State once again never let Alabama get out in front and fought off a late Tide rally to secure a 2-0 lead in the match with a 25-21 second-set victory.
However, Alabama would not go quietly. UA's Krystal Rivers turned on the jets in the third set, tallying 7 kills and a pair of blocks to put the Tide in the driver's seat. MSU would reel off a 7-1 run to cut the Tide's lead to 24-22, but could not complete the comeback and relinquishing the set, 25-22. The match's fourth set played tight until late, when the Tide made their move out in front. UA picked up seven of the last nine points to force a decisive fifth set, 25-18. From there, the real fun began.
The Crimson Tide pulled out to a pair of three-point leads early, but the Dogs would not be held back for much longer. Johnson reached another level in her play, reeling off a pair of kills and blocks to spark a 6-1 MSU run to put the home team in the lead. Alabama jumped in front one last time, but State would not be denied history.
Taking six of the last eight points, the Maroon and White sealed a 15-12 set win and captured a 3-2 victory against Alabama to seal up the best SEC start in school history. Along with MSU's dominance on the attack and block, sophomore setter Blossom Sato also turned in an impressive performance. Her 49 assists set a season high and came one short of tying her career high of 50.
Cheyenne Spell topped the Bulldogs in digs with 19, while Payton Harris followed close behind with 11.
"We do still have some things to work on with our game, especially when you look back at the third and fourth sets," McFatrich said.
"We've got to learn how to keep our moxie when we're up 2-0. But when it's all set and done, I'm proud of this team. So proud. Now time to get to work for Kentucky."
MSU will remain at The Griss for the final match of its homestand on Friday against Kentucky. The Bulldogs and Wildcats will square off on Friday, Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. CT, with the action coming on SEC Network +.