“The girls wanted this win and we needed this win,” fifth-year MSU head coach Jenny Hazelwood said. “Everyone stepped up the challenge and I couldn’t be more proud of the team. Dani showed why she’s such a great student-athlete and leader today by stepping up when her team needed her and winning the last match of the season.”
A sloppy first set opened the match with both teams struggling on multiple attacks. MSU picked up an early 5-2 lead and controlled the set until UT took a 14-13 advantage to force Hazelwood into her first timeout. The Bulldogs quickly rebounded but again fell behind 18-16. State could only tie it a few more times before the Vols ultimately claimed a 25-22 opening-set win.
Much like the first set, MSU took a quick 7-4 lead behind the arms of Taylor Scott and Kelsey Stommes but UT rallied to tie it at nine. After calling a timeout down 12-10, MSU recovered to knot it at 13 off an ace from Suzanne Horner and keep the set tied until State put together a mini 4-1 run to claim a 25-22 win of its own. Scott finished with six kills and a trio of digs in the second frame alone.
After the break, neither team could gain an advantage early in the third set. The two teams traded blows until a solo block by Chelsea Duhs gave the Bulldogs a two-point edge at 13-11. UT recovered to force Hazelwood into a timeout trailing 18-17 and then McCree took over. She put away a kill on the first rally out of the timeout to send State on an 8-3 run en route to a 25-21 third set victory.
Mississippi State and McCree held momentum from the first serve of the fourth set. UT quickly fell behind 2-1 with a pair of service errors and never regained traction. The Vols were forced into their first timeout with MSU leading 12-7 and responded with a 5-2 run. After Hazelwood called a timeout with the Bulldogs ahead by two, State never relented and took the clinching set 25-21.
McCree posted 12 kills over the last two sets to finish with her career-best 17 in the match. She bettered her previous career mark by three and posted a .351 hitting percentage (17-4-37). The Rialto, Calif., native also tacked on a two digs. McCree wrapped up her career with 422 kills, 103 digs, 63 blocks and 460 points in a total of 83 matches (35 starts).
Overshadowed by McCree’s performance was another incredible showing by sophomore libero Roxanne McVey, who turned in 33 digs on the afternoon and finished the season with a single-season school record 632 digs. She also holds the second-best mark at 538 from a season ago and ranks eighth all-time in MSU history with 1,190 career digs.
Scott finished with 24 kills and 10 digs for her 12th double-double of the season and 19th of her career. She wrapped up the season with 622 career kills, which ranks second in the SEC among underclassmen.
With another 26 assists against the Vols, Horner wrapped up the year with 952 assists, which is the second-most by an MSU freshman in the rally-scoring era. Fellow setter Katlyn Mataya also posted 30 assists in the match.
Bali Leffall-Young earned the second start of her career and picked up a pair of kills, while freshman Gabby Litwin turned in the best defensive performance of her career during conference play with 15 digs.
The Bulldogs posted one of their best home seasons in program history with eight home wins, which are second-most in program history. State also drew 7,199 fans to the Newell-Grissom Building on the year, a new single-season record for the facility.
MSU’s nine nonconference wins are also the most in the Hazelwood era and the most since downing 11 nonconference opponents in 2011.
The 12 wins this season also matches the most wins since Hazelwood returned to Starkville in 2009. The last time an MSU squad turned in more than 12 wins was the 2006 team, which turned in 17.
The only business left for MSU this year will be SEC and AVCA awards, which will be announced in the coming weeks.