STARKVILLE, Miss. - Being back at Newell-Grissom could not have been much sweeter for the Mississippi State Bulldogs (12-11, 4-5 SEC), as they returned from a rough three-match road trip to down the Tennessee Volunteers (13-8, 3-5 SEC), 3-0, on Sunday.
State bounced back from a four-match losing streak in dominating fashion, blanking the Vols for the second time this year to claim the season series for the fourth time in history and first since 2013. The win also marked the first time in State's 42-year history that it has swept UT in back-to-back matches.
"We knew this was a key match for us, especially with our rough patch here of late, and these girls answered the call," MSU coach David McFatrich said. "I'm especially proud of how much of a team effort this was. To look down at the stats and see that no one really stood out shows a complete effort from your team."
A balanced effort across the board was indeed what carried the Bulldogs to victory on Friday, with senior Evie Grace Singleton topping the charts with 12 kills and 14.5 points. The SEC's aces leader also delivered two bombs from the service line to go along with her 12 kills.
Sunday began with a tight first set, as both teams looked poised to take a 1-0 lead in the match. In a frame that featured 11 ties and four lead changes, the difference would be a late 4-0 run from the Dogs, highlighted by a kill and block from freshman Emily Hill.
From there, State would go on to a 25-21 first set victory, taking control of a back-and-forth match heading into the second. Tennessee started quick out the gates in the second, but a number of mini runs from the home squad put a 2-0 lead in the hands of the Maroon and White. After the Vols drew within three, McFatrich called for time, regrouped his troops and the Dogs captured six of the last eight points to secure the second set, 25-18.
Tennessee once again started quick, this time pushing ahead by as much as three several times in the set's early stages. A 5-1 run put State in the lead, 13-11, but not for long. The Vols would tie the set several times as the frame hit the homestretch, but could never regain the lead. In a match plagued by errors, UT suffered when it was most crucial, as an attack popped the net to give MSU match point at 25-23. The very next point saw a crushing block from Chelsea Duhs and Jazmyne Johnson to seal the match with a 25-23 third-set win.
After Singleton's 12 kills came Jelena Vujcin with 12 and Hill and Johnson, who both tallied 6. State's 6-2 offense was highlighted by a 18-assist day from Blossom Sato, while Riley Duzenack turned in 16.
Hill and Johnson also both tallied 3 blocks to lead State's blocking charge, while Cheyenne Spell paced MSU with 9 digs.
As a team the Dogs saw a much different outcome on the stat sheet from their first meeting with Tennessee. State won in kills (40-31), assists (37-28) and aces (5-2), while tying in digs (29-29). Tennessee won the blocking battle by one, 7.0-6.0.
Most notable is State's .306 attacking percentage, marking its 11th victory this season when outhitting its opponent. MSU is also a perfect 4-0 this year when hitting above .300.
"We did a much better job of executing in certain areas than we did last time in Knoxville. However, there are still things we need to work on, especially with the number of service errors we had," McFatrich said. "Regardless, we're happy to be back in the win column and we're going to build off this as we get back on the road this week."
Mississippi State will get back on the road this week, heading to Arkansas (3-18, 1-8 SEC) and Missouri (18-3, 9-0 SEC). The Bulldogs and Razorbacks face off on Wednesday, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. CT on the SEC Network before battling the Tigers on Sunday, Oct. 30 at 1:30 p.m. on SEC Network +.