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By LEE ADAMS
Florida came into the Southeastern Conference opener with a No. 7 ranking but the unranked Mississippi State Bulldogs held their own in front of the hometown crowd.
The Gators, who are picked to win the SEC, had to deal with 1,009 rowdy Bulldog fans, which is the second largest crowd in MSU history and is the largest for an SEC game.
Despite the big crowd pumping up Mississippi State, the Gators picked up the 3-0 sweep, but they had their hands full with the unranked Bulldogs.
MSU held a lead in all three sets, but were unable to pick up a set win and MSU head coach Jenny Hazelwood feels that it was mistakes that cost them set wins.
"We had a good game plan and when we were executing that game plan, we were successful," said Hazelwood. "When the game plan broke down, that's when they went on scoring runs."
State held leads late in the first and third sets but their errors wouldn't allow them to finish off the Gators.
"We were making a ton of errors to give them points, and you can't do that against anybody much less the No. 7 team in the country," said Hazelwood. "That's something we are going to have to clean up."
The Bulldogs dropped the sets 25-20, 25-18 and 26-24.
"It's great that we played them so close," said Hazelwood. "I am proud of the fact that we played a good match against an outstanding team."
MSU senior Caitlin Rance and freshman Lainey Wyman led the Bulldogs with 10 kills each. Rance, who now has 174 kills this year, had a normal night, but Wyman stepped up her game.
"Lainey has been solid all year, but she seemed to take it to the next level tonight," said Hazelwood.
One reason for Wyman's step up performance could be due to Florida senior and 2010 SEC player of the year Kelly Murphy being former high school teammates. Wyman and Murphy both went to Joliet Catholic Academy in Joliet, IL, so there could have been some extra motivation for Wyman.
"I don't know if there was a little extra umpf in Lainey's step going against her, but she did a phenomenal job tonight," said Hazelwood.
Losing is never the way a team wants to start conference play, but Hazelwood is confident in her team's ability to fix their mistakes and get better.
"We have got to keep building because there are still things that we are not doing the way I want them done," said Hazelwood. "If we can get to where we are doing everything right, then we are going to be a tough team to beat."
After dropping the SEC opener, the Bulldogs won't have much time to fix the mistakes they had Friday night as they host South Carolina on Sunday afternoon. The quick turnaround will only give MSU one day to prepare for the Gamecocks, who have been preparing for the Bulldogs all week. Florida and South Carolina are different in the way they play.
"One thing that's different about South Carolina is they will go to their middle more than Florida does," said Hazelwood. "We know what their strengths are and we've got to minimize where they're strong and take advantage of where they're weak."