STARKVILLE, Miss. - Mississippi State made a strong bid to nail down its first volleyball win against powerful Florida Sunday, extending the Gators in all three sets before dropping a closely-contested 3-0 decision (25-23, 27-25, 25-22) in a regionally-televsied (CSS-TV) SEC volleyball match at the Newell-Grissom Building.
Florida overcame a 23-17 deficit and three serves at set point to claim a pivotal win in the second set and went on to register its 36th consecutive win over the Bulldogs.
"I'm very proud of the way we came out and competed today against one of the nation's top volleyball teams," said Bulldog head coach Jenny Hazelwood. "We could have won any of those sets today. There's no question that we're playing our best volleyball of the season right now. We're passing well. We're running a solid offense. Our defense has been solid and out blocking has been good. We really are playing good all-around volleyball, and that's part of building a program."
Senior Ioana Demian claimed match scoring honors with 12 kills. Caitlin Rance tallied eight to move past the 200-kill mark for the year and Ashley Newsome finished with seven kills and seven blocks.
The Gators' 51-kill showing was powered by four players. Colleen Ward, Kelly Murphy and Lauren Bledsoe finished with 11 kills each and Kristy Jaeckel added 10. Murphy reached triple-double status, adding 25 assists and 10 digs.
The Bulldogs went toe-to-toe with the Gators in the opening set, with neither team leading by more than two points throughout the see-saw stanza. A Gator ball-handling error put State up 19-17 before Florida went on a 4-0 run. MSU closed to within a point four times down the stretch and trailed 24-23 after a kill by Faith Steinwedell. But Lauren Bledsoe delivered her lone kill of the set to give Florida the win 25-23. Both teams hit at match-best levels --- Florida got 19 kills and hit .391 while State matched that 19-kill output and hit .362 against the 18-time defending SEC champions. Demian delivered six of those Bulldog kills.
Both teams struggled offensively in the second set, with the Bulldogs and the Gators combining for 19 attack errors. UF raced to a 4-0 advantage and forged a 10-6 lead before the Bulldogs, with Faith Steinwedell at serve, went on a 9-0 run to lead 15-10. State built the lead out to 23-17 on a kill by Demian and appeared headed for a match-evening second set victory. A kill by UF's Kelly Murphy and three straight Bulldog attack errors helped the Gators close the gap to 23-21 with Kelly Jaeckel at serve. A serving error by Jaeckel put MSU at set point 24-21. But the Bulldogs were unable to finish the set. Florida out-scored State 6-1, fighting off three serves at set point to claim a 27-25 win in the stanza.
Florida jumped out to a 4-1 advantage to open the third set, but the Bulldogs, though they never led in the final set, managed to stay in contention with the Gators. A kill by Demian and a Florida setting miscue helped knot the score at 21-21 and Demian's fifth and final kill in the frame drew State to within a point at 23-22. But Bledsoe answered with her seventh kill of the set and a Bulldog attack error enabled Florida to nail down a 25-22 game three win and its 18th victory in 21 matches this season.
Kayla Woodard paced MSU's solid defensive effort with 23 digs. Dorey Gray backed her 30-assist performance with 14 digs for her fourth double-double of the season while Faith Steinwedell added 11 digs.
The Bulldogs hit the road next weekend, testing the Tennessee Lady Vols Friday (6 p.m. CST) in Knoxville and SEC-leading Kentucky Sunday (12:30 p.m. CST) in Lexington.