STARKVILLE, Miss. - Junior middle blocker Ashley Newsome piled up a career-high 22 kills Friday night to lead Mississippi State (6-18, 2-11 SEC) to a 3-1 Southeastern Conference volleyball win over South Carolina (12-10, 4-9 SEC) at the Newell Grissom Building. The win (25-22, 24-26, 25-21, 25-17) was the first in league play at home for first-year Bulldog head coach Jenny Hazelwood and gave State a split of its 2009 season series with the Gamecocks.
State next hosts 10th-ranked Florida (17-3, 11-3 SEC) in a 1 p.m. match to be televised regionally by Comcast Sports Southeast (CSS).
"We've always known that Ashley can take over a match, and tonight she did," said Hazelwood. "But it was a truly a complete team win. We had outstanding play on defense, where we held our own against the SEC's top defensive team, we were solid at the net with our blocking, and Dorey Gray did an outstanding job of distributing the ball to our hitters."
But Newsome claimed the Bulldog spotlight in this Halloween Eve win, hitting at a crisp .459 clip and bettering her previous career-best of 19 kills established earlier this season. Seven of those kills came in the match-clinching fourth set. The second of those seven kills broke an 8-8 tie and sent the Bulldogs on their way to a 25-17 win. Newsome, from Florence, Ala., now leads the club with 262 kills and 88 blocks.
Senior setter Dorey Gray delivered 43 assists and with 14 digs recorded her third double-double of the season. Gray also successfully directed plenty of passes to other Bulldogs. Sophomore Caitlin Rance had 13 kills, senior Ioana Demian eight kills and Chanelle Baker and Faith Steinwedell seven each. Rance delivered five kills in an error-free fourth set.
Hazelwood was particularly pleased with the play of the Bulldog defense. Though the Bulldogs were out-dug 79-69, State placed four players in double figures in digs. Junior libero Kayla Woodard led the way with 18 scoops, while Gray added 14, Steinwedell 13 and Demian 11.
State opened the match with a 5-1 lead in the opening set, trailing only once, and that on the opening point. MSU got six kills and two blocks from Newsome and the Bulldogs, who successfully fended off a pair of stiff USC challenges, had just four attack errors in the stanza. The Gamecocks, with an impressive seven-kill effort by Ivana Kujundzic, closed the gap to a single point at 13-12 and later at 23-22. But a Gamecock attack error and a block on Newsome block ended the set.
South Carolina, with a match-best .267 hitting mark and 18 kills, rallied in the second set to even the match with a 26-24 win. State built up a six point lead at 18-12 on back-to-back kills by Baker and Newsome. But USC's Megan Laughlin got the hot hand, delivering 10 of her team-leading 22 kills without an attack error. A Demian kill gave MSU a 23-21 lead and, after USC pulled even on a pair of State attack errors, Newsome came through with a kill that put State at set point serve, 24-23. Laughlin tallied her final two kills of the set as USC closed the stanza with a set-winning 3-0 run.
It was State that needed to rally in the third set. MSU trailed for much of the game and found itself down 17-11. But Newsome stepped up again, delivering four clutch kills and a block to lead the MSU comeback. Faith Steinwedell served up an ace that gave MSU its first lead of the set at 19-18, and teh Bulldogs never trailed again in the 25-21 win. It was the weakest offensive showing of the night for State, with just 11 kills and a .150 attack percentage. But USC had nine attack errors and three service miscues to help State take a 2-1 advantage in the match.
The Bulldogs saved their best for the deciding fourth set. Mississippi State hit at a .351 clip with 16 kills and just three attack errors. Newsome and Rance combined for 12 of those kills, and the Bulldog defense helped limit the Gamecocks to a match-low .132 attack percentage. USC led twice int he early going before a Newsome kill broke an 8-8 tie and gave State a lead it would not relinquish. State out-pointed USC 6-2 down the stretch, finishing the set and the match with a Caitlin Rance service ace and the seventh kill of the night by rookie Chanelle Baker.
Laughlin and Kujundzic combined for 38 of USC's 59 kills, while Jordan Bradosky delivered a match-high 20 digs for the Gamecocks.
State held the upper hand at the net, building out a 9-2 lead in total team blocks. Demian had a solo and four assisted blocks, Newsome knocked down four and Gray added three blocks.