Volleyball returns home for Hail State Invitational

Published 3:18 pm Friday, September 17, 2021

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After two challenging and successful weekends on the road, the Mississippi State volleyball team is back inside the friendly confines of the Newell-Grissom Building for the Hail State Invitational this weekend.

Last weekend, the Bulldogs (7-2) knocked off a pair of Power 5 opponents in Indiana (Big Ten) and Oklahoma (Big 12) at the Georgia Tech Classic in Atlanta. The Maroon and White is joined by Tennessee as the only two programs to defeat two Power 5 opponents in the same weekend during the 2021 season.

State turns its attention to Syracuse Friday at 6 p.m. CT, South Alabama Saturday at 6 p.m. CT and Jackson State Sunday at 2 p.m. CT to conclude its non-conference slate.

“Friday, we face a very physical Syracuse team,” head coach Julie Darty Dennis said. “They play good volleyball. I think that they are going to present a very similar look to teams that we have played and will play in the SEC. I think they are a good team for us to open our home tournament with. We have had a good week of practice and preparation. I think the team taking their recovery and preparation process very seriously. The team wants to go into conference play with 10 wins. I think we will have the opportunity to do so if we are focused, dialed in and play the type of volleyball we are capable of. It’s certainly going to take a great level of effort and execution. Our fans are going to have to be there to help us every step of the way. I’m excited about this weekend. I think it is a great setup. We have one match a day so I feel we will be fresh, energetic and ready to go. I think it is a great opportunity for us to be at home in front of our fans before a tough conference slate.”

Admission is free for all home volleyball matches with gates opening one hour prior to first serve. Marketing promotions include a nacho bar on Friday, an iced coffee giveaway on Saturday and an eyepatch giveaway on Sunday.

In accordance with Mississippi State University policies, face coverings are required to be worn at all times during all indoor athletic events unless fans are actively eating or drinking. Mississippi State Athletics has designed a socially distanced seating plan to welcome fans to the Newell-Grissom Building in the healthiest manner possible for the 2021 season.

All three matches will be streamed live by SEC Network+ and the Watch ESPN app. Sunday’s match will televised nationwide by the SEC Network.

Mississippi State ranks among the SEC’s top 5 in kills per set (13.94 – 4th) and assists per set (12.55 – 5th). The Bulldogs have put together a balanced offensive attack with six players who are averaging over 1.50 kills per set.

Gabby Coulter and Margaret Dean have combined to dish out 10.67 assists per set on the season, which would rank third among SEC setters if running a 5-1 offensive system. The duo has combined for 2,947 career assists and six double-doubles on the season.

Lauren Myrick has cranked a team-leading 3.18 kills per set, coupled with 2.70 digs, 0.42 blocks and 0.36 aces per set as a six-rotation outside hitter. Her 0.36 aces are 10th in the SEC rankings.

Myrick has belted 10-plus kills in seven of nine matches already surpassing her total from the 2020-21 season. She has tucked away four double-doubles, most recently 19 kills and 13 digs against Indiana (09/09) along with 12 kills and 11 digs versus Oklahoma (09/10).

Gabby Waden, a 2020-21 All-SEC selection, has ripped 3.12 kills per set on a .312 hitting percentage as a three-rotation right side hitter for the season.

Waden has powered home 10-plus kills during five of her last seven outings, headed by a pair of 19-kill, five-block performance against Southeastern Louisiana (08/28). She also rattled home 19 kills and added five digs versus Indiana (09/09).

Sania Petties has begun to chart her course as one of the SEC’s top freshmen and the SEC’s best freshmen middle blocker over the season’s opening three weekends. She has chipped in 1.93 kills and 0.87 blocks per set.

Petties has garnered a .444 hitting percentage, which is tops among SEC freshmen and third overall on the SEC leaderboard. She tallied a season-high 10 kills at Houston (09/03) and matched a season’s best six blocks against Oklahoma (09/10).

“I have seen a different sense of composure and belief from the team in practice this week,” Dennis said. “I think that every time we step on the court, we are trying to get better in one area. That is volleyball-specific stuff but also personal things such as communication and problem solving. I think that the team is feeling like they are in a good place because they are understanding each other. They know how to work together as a team. I think there is more room for improvement, and that is what I’m excited about. I’m excited to see what we get out of this home tournament so that we can take it into SEC play and be more prepared and confident in what we are putting out there.”

Lilly Gunter, a 2020-21 All-SEC Freshman team pick, has reeled in 10-plus digs in addition to a perfect-passer rating during seven of nine matches this season. She has eclipsed 20-plus digs twice, fueled by a career-best 22 digs against Indiana (09/09).

Gunter’s 3.58 digs per set is seventh-highest among SEC liberoes. She also provided 21 digs and a season’s best seven assists versus Southeastern Louisiana (08/28).

Deja Robinson has secured 1.59 kills and a team-leading 1.09 blocks per set. She has compiled a .410 attack percentage, which is sixth in the SEC rankings.

Robinson’s 1.09 blocks are just outside the SEC’s top 10. The Canton, Georgia, native has picked up five or more blocks on three occasions. Her season-highs are 11 kills and eight blocks at Houston (09/03).

Shania Cromartie has managed 2.30 kills, 2.52 digs and 0.22 aces per set as a six-rotation outside hitter. She has worked her way to a pair of double-doubles over her last four outings. Cromartie collected a season-high 13 kills at Houston (09/03) and a season-best 13 digs versus Oklahoma (09/10).

Jessica Kemp has registered five-plus kills off the bench in six of her nine appearances. She has come away with 1.63 kills, 0.57 blocks and 0.57 digs per set for the season. Kemp’s season-highs are 10 kills versus Southeastern Louisiana (08/28) and four blocks against Indiana (09/09).

“We have to be present for every single point and every single match,” Dennis said. “If the team wants to have success and win, we can’t take the foot off the gas for one point or one set. I think we want to focus on how we start matches, and how we are dictating the tempo in the first set. I think the team has bought into that individually and as a whole. They are doing their part being engaged. We talk a lot about how failures are not final. One kill in volleyball is not worth three points. I think we are just trying to keep it simple and get back to the basics. We are just trying to manage risks and score real points. We are just trying to enjoy it and have fun out there. When the team is playing volleyball super hard and having fun, the product is very good. I want our players to see that those things go perfectly together hand-in-hand.”

Visit www.HailState.com for the latest news and information on the volleyball program. Fans also can follow the program on its social media outlets by searching ‘HailStateVB’ on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.