November 7, 2013 1:13:47 AM
Scott Walters - email@example.com
STARKVILLE -- For Mississippi State University, the setting was perfect Wednesday night.
However, the final outcome was not.
Playing before the largest crowd ever to see a Southeastern Conference volleyball match on campus, the MSU volleyball team dropped a 3-1 (25-20, 20-25, 25-15, 25-20) decision to arch-rival Ole Miss.
A crowd of 1,633 packed out the Newell-Grissom Building. The Famous Maroon pep band was in attendance, as well as the cheer leaders. Several fraternities and sororities took advantage of a series of promotions, with students lined out the door minutes before first serve. Free food and t-shirts were available. The match was also televised nationally by ESPNU.
"It was all you could have ever hoped for and more," MSU head coach Jenny Hazelwood said. "I can not thank the student body and fan base enough for their support. Newell-Grissom was the loudest it has been in my five years and one of the loudest I have been apart of in the SEC. We showed tonight why we have some of the best fans in the SEC."
While the fans delivered, the team was unable to match in performance. Ole Miss snapped a three-match conference losing streak, while MSU saw its slide extend to five straight.
"We may have been trying too hard there early in the match," MSU sophomore libero Roxanne McVey said. "The fan support was incredible and it really helped us a lot. We just didn't play well and couldn't get settled into the match."
Ole Miss (12-12, 2-9 SEC) won for the sixth time in the last seven series meetings. Coach Joe Getzin saw his team teetering again Wednesday night, after dropping the second set and entering the intermission in a 1-1 tie.
"We got up pretty bad on the road last weekend (in 3-0 losses at Missouri and Arkansas)," Getzin said. "We really challenged to the kids to come out and start stronger. We knew this would be an intense rivalry match. We had to match the intensity. I thought we did an incredible job of that."
Ole Miss seized control of the match in the third set.
A kill by Dani McCree brought the Bulldogs within 13-12. Ole Miss responded with a 10-2 run to steal all of the momentum in the match. Ole Miss had seven stretches of three consecutive points or more in the match, while MSU only had two such stretches.
"We knew if we could steal a point or two, we could make a three or four point run," Getzin said. "Both teams sided out real well. We simply talked to our team about pushing for one point, and if we get one it turns into two."
MSU (11-14, 2-9) appeared tight in the first match and Ole Miss took full advantage. While trying to get its service game in gear, MSU still eased out to an 11-10 advantage. A couple of unforced errors proved costly. Ty Laporte had four kills as Ole Miss quickly built a lead late and took a 25-20 win in that set. MSU had five of its 11 service errors in that set.
The Bulldogs fought right back with a strong finish to the second set. MSU ended the set with 7-2 run to gain the momentum going into the break.
"We thought we were ready to take over," MSU freshman OPP Kimmy Gardiner said. "We have to learn how to play well in back-to-back sets because we really had the momentum and we let it get away."
Getzin knew his team would need a spark to regain control.
Behind six kills from Nakeyta Clair and four kills from Marie-Pierre Bakima, Ole Miss rode a .353 attacking percentage in the third set to complete control in the match. MSU held no greater than a two-point lead in either of the final two sets.
"I was really worried about our mental state after State got it back to 1-1," Getzin said. "I really like how we attacked in the third set. It was a defensive match and we were able to get some separation.
Gardner led MSU with 17 kills, seven digs and a block, while senior Dani McCree added nine kills. McVey finished with 21 digs, while Alex Warren had five blocks.
For Ole Miss, Clair finished with a career-high 19 kills on a .536 hitting percentage. Junior Cara Fisher, the Rebels' libero, had a career-high 17 digs. Freshman Aubrey Edie posted her fifth double-double with 42 assists and 12 digs.
Ole Miss beat Tennessee earlier this season for its other conference win. Those teams meet against Friday in Knoxville, Tenn. Meanwhile, MSU resumes its homestand with a 7 p.m. start Friday against Texas A&M.
"There is no time to get discouraged," Hazelwood said. "We just have to come back out here and get ready for Friday night."
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter