The Gators (23-1, 16-0 SEC) breezed to a 25-7 win in the opening set. But State (11-16, 3-13 SEC) was more than competitive the remainder of the match while playing in front of its biggest audience, 2,281 fans, at Florida's O'Connell Center. State extended UF before bowing 25-23 in the second set, notched a 30-28 win in set three, and then battled the homestanding Gators closely before dropping a 25-20 decision in the fourth set.
"I am so proud of the way our kids rebounded after getting off to such a slow start tonight," said second-year Mississippi State coach Jenny Hazelwood. "The slow start was probably due to a combination of us having a lot of young players playing against a very talented and well-coached Florida team that is justifiably ranked as the nation's best and playing them on their home court. But we were able to improve our passing and get them out of system. That put us in a position to have some success."
The win in the third set was only the fourth in 118 sets played in the 38-match series, the first since 2005 and only the second in Gainesville. State claimed a set in a 3-1 loss in Gainesville in the first MSU-Florida volleyball match played in 1984.
Junior outside hitter Caitlin Rance and senior middle blocker Ashley Newsome led the way for the Bulldogs. Rance tallied 12 kills and shared match honors with UF's Kristy Jaeckel. The Kingwood, Texas, product also added four blocks and a team-leading 11 digs for her team-best 10th double-double. Newsome finished with 10 kills and, like Rance, finished with four blocks.
Freshman setter Paris Perret also reached double-double status, for the sixth time, recording 31 assists and 10 digs. "Paris did one of her best jobs running the offense, and she was very solid on defense, too."
Jaeckel had 12 kills, 12 digs and three solo blocks to pace UF. Kelly Murphy and Lauren Bledsoe had 10 kills each, Callie Rivers had nine and Tangerine Wiggs and Cassandra Anderson rounded out the balanced attack with eight kills each.
Florida led State in kills, 62-41, served up 10 aces and owned a 13-6 advantage in total team blocks.
The Bulldogs struggled mightily to open the match, registering just three kills in dropping the opening set 25-7. The Gators spread 14 kills among eight different players and hit .545 in the opening set for an early 1-0 match lead.
Mississippi State went toe-to-toe with top-ranked Florida in the second set, knotting the score at 23-23 on a service ace by Hillary Parker. Newsome and Rance tallied three kills apiece and led six Bulldog players registering kills in the set. But a State service error and put UF on top and Cassandra Anderson's sixth kill of the set lifted Florida to the 25-23 win and 2-0 match lead at intermission.
Newsome registered five kills in a closely-contested third set that featured six lead changes and 14 ties. Down 24-23, the Bulldogs successfully fought off a match-point serve with a kill by Mandy Mellencamp. Mellencamp followed with another kill to give the Bulldogs the first of five serves at set point. After a Gator service error broke a 28-28 deadlock, Rance closed out the stanza with a kill that ended a run of 35 consecutive Gator game wins against State.
The Bulldogs out-hit Florida .200 to .184 in the fourth set, thanks to a six-kill showing by Rance. But the Gators jumped out to a 3-1 and never trailed in clinching the match with a 25-20 win.
"Last year we had several set-point serves against Florida at the Newell-Grissom Building," said Hazelwood. "We weren't strong enough to finish and break through then. Tonight we were. And to do that on the road against a powerful Florida team with so many weapons is huge for this team and has implications for the seasons to come."
The Bulldogs resume this week's SEC road trip Saturday with a 6 p.m. CST match against the South Carolina Gamecocks5-20, 2-13 SEC).
State closes out its 2010 home schedule next weekend, hosting SEC East foe Georgia on senior night Friday, Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. CST before taking on Auburn Sunday, Nov. 21 in a 1:30 p.m. match.