Bulldogs beat Gamecocks in five sets
MSU's Hannah Wilkinson strikes the volleyball against South Carolina on Sunday. (Photo by Lee Adams, SDN)
Hannah Wilkinson is in attack mode for the Mississippi State volleyball team.
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Wilkinson, who led the Southeastern Conference in hitting percentage coming into Sunday at .488, had another good day against the South Carolina Gamecocks and led MSU to a 3-2 victory at the Newell-Grissom Building.
With 13 kills and one error in 17 total attacks, Wilkinson hit for a .706 percentage against the Gamecocks.
It was two kills from Wilkinson early in the fifth set that seemed to spark the Bulldogs to a deciding 15-8 win.
After winning the first two sets with ease 25-16 and 25-17, MSU dropped back-to-back 25-23 sets and set up the final winning-take-all set.
"As a senior, there's a sense of urgency to know this is it," Wilkinson said. "We came out really strong in the first two sets and that was great, but we let up a little in the third or fourth and we can't do that because we know we worked hard enough and we are a good enough team that we should put things away in three when it's this kind of team."
With the victory, the Bulldogs improved to 6-5 overall and 1-1 in the SEC. The Gamecocks fell to 9-2 and lost their league opener.
"I think it shows we can beat good teams," MSU coach Jenny Hazelwood said. "We know that, but it's different when you start conference play. I think it gives the girls a lot of confidence, not only to beat a really good team, but to have a high winning the first two sets, struggle some, then bounce back and be really strong."
Hazelwood saw that South Carolina was able to make adjustments after losing the first two sets and the chance to take a break during sets two and three was an advantage for the visitors.
"They came out with a different lineup and were a little bit tougher," Hazelwood said. "I told the girls in the locker room that we struggled making adjustments. The thing I was proud of was they dropped two sets and really at the end of the fourth set, started saying OK, we don't want to lose this and started to play better, cleaned things up on our side and played a pretty dominant fifth set."
Not only did the Bulldogs use the kills of Wilkinson in the fifth set, but also from Lainey Wyman and Caitlin Rance to take control.
"We came out with intensity in the fifth set and that's what really got us going," Rance said. "We were excited and knew it was our last opportunity so we played a lot better and more aggressive."
For the match, Rance had 17 kills, while Wyman added 16 and Wilkinson chipped in 13.
Rance accomplished her fifth double-double of the season by adding 16 digs.
"If it's anywhere near me, I just try to take it and I don't want it to hit the ground," Rance said.
Hazelwood said Rance is playing like a senior should right now.
"She has that grit and determination to find a way to get the job done so I don't think we'll see anything different," Hazelwood said. "Teams know she is our go-to player and she still finds a way to lead our team in kills. She's outstanding."
Bentley Witte had a career-high 19 digs for MSU and Paris Perret added 17. Perret also completed a double-double with 50 assists.
After splitting their first two conference matches at home, the Bulldogs travel to Arkansas (Sept. 23), LSU (Sept. 25), Alabama (Sept. 30) and Ole Miss (Oct. 2).
"Every SEC team is a strong team so we can't ever let down on our side," Hazelwood said. "We did that a little bit (on Sunday), but still came out with a win.
"Historically, our teams in the past have struggled making mid-match adjustments. I told them in the locker room that you've got to know in this conference, you are going to face coaches that are going to make good adjustments and you've got to be able to handle that."