As the Bulldog volleyball team entered week five of conference play, they faced two very different types of opponents. On Friday, the Bulldogs played the University of Auburn, a team trying to stay alive and avoid a regime change at the end of the season. On Sunday, the Bulldogs faced the LSU Tigers, pushing to keep the pace in a league with so much parody.
For MSU's second-year head coach Julie Darty, it was very important to show progression by beating those teams that are not in the upper echelon of the conference. After beating Auburn at home last weekend, this matchup was a chance to double her SEC win total from last year with six more matches to play.
The Bulldogs did not disappoint. Darty was extremely proud of the way her squad played as they fought for every single point in the 3-0 set win Friday night.
“What a huge win for the Bulldogs,” Darty said. “We came in with a laser-like focus and it just seemed like we were calm and composed from the beginning, even when we had some stretches when we let Auburn get ahead by a couple of points. We held it together and just decided to gut it out.”
With another confidence booster in their bag, the Bulldogs headed to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to face the Tigers of LSU. The Tigers relied on their honorable mention All-American Taylor Banister, who had 25 kills and 16 digs, and their 13.5 team blocks to squeak past the Bulldogs in five exciting sets winning 3-2.
Alleah Stemantis, a senior setter from Lexington, Kentucky, spread the offense around for the Bulldogs, setting four of her teammates up for double-digit kills. Along the way, she notched her 10th double-double of the season as she accounted for 13 digs as well. Darty said she liked the grit her team showed taking LSU to five sets, especially after losing the third set 25-9.
“I’m proud of our fight today,” Darty said. “It was a roller coaster of a match and I think that’s the part we are trying to figure out and smooth out."
Darty’s focus on the serve and pass game seemed to be the reason why they were able to stay in the match. While hitting below .200 in hitting percentage, those sets where the Bulldogs were more successful defending the serve and coming away with points earned the Bulldogs set wins.
Smoothing the flow of play so there is not a roller coaster of emotions in a game is something Darty said the team can work to improve as controlling the tempo and emotions of a game is important.
“When we take care of our side and control what we can control, the result is pretty good," Darty said. "We have to find a way to slow it down and settle in, and really make the choice to focus on the serve and pass game if we are going to win sets and matches.”
In the next two weekends, MSU will host the University of South Carolina, the University of Florida and the University of Georgia with chances to earn more conference wins at home.
I'm hoping that a weekend of good volleyball on the road will carry over this week and we can bring it back to StarkVegas for a big homestand next weekend," Darty said.