Ole Miss volleyball improved its conference record to 6-7 following Sunday afternoon’s 3-1 win over the visiting Mississippi State Bulldogs. With just five games remaining in the regular season, every point counts toward keeping the Rebels’ playoff hopes alive.
Now 15-11 on the season, Ole Miss easily handled the struggling Bulldogs, but the team will face a variety of talent in its remaining games. The Bulldogs are dead last in the conference, lacking a single SEC win and sitting near the bottom of nearly every major conference stat line. So while Saturday’s win certainly boosted the Rebels’ momentum, they are not out of the woods yet.
Looking ahead, the Rebels’ most daunting task will be their penultimate match against No. 3 Kentucky on Nov. 19. The Wildcats boast a stunning 10-1 record in SEC play and top most every offensive statistical category in the conference. Kentucky’s .314 hitting percentage and 14.73 kills/game cast an ominous shadow over the Rebel hopeful.
But Ole Miss won’t give up without a fight. This season, head coach Steven McRoberts and his team have found ways to win when the going gets tough.
The wins, including a 3-2 win over SEC opponent Georgia, were no accident. Ole Miss has demonstrated a propensity for highly defensive play, allowing its opponents a .181 hitting percentage, second in the conference. At the same time, the Wildcats rank 12th in the SEC in digs, a worrying statistic for any conference contender.
If the Rebels can continue their defensive prowess against Kentucky’s elite offense while also taking advantage of its holes on defense, they could knock down one of the SEC’s best.
Beyond the menacing matchup with Kentucky, Ole Miss’ remaining opponents appear far more manageable. Texas A&M, Tennessee and South Carolina make up three of the bottom four teams in the SEC with an average conference-win percentage of just .343.
Before the Rebels face any of these schools, they will have to travel to Athens, Georgia, for a rematch with the Georgia Bulldogs.
Georgia, sitting at 7-6 in conference play, will hold a slight advantage over the Rebels: the home court. Ole Miss will also have to contend with reigning Freshman of the Week Rachel Ritchie and the Bulldogs’ upper-level offense. But the Rebels’ victory over the Bulldogs in October bodes well for McRoberts’ group.
While Georgia does not pose the offensive threat Kentucky does, it still possesses the weapons to disrupt the Rebels’ usually sound defensive play. With a conference-leading 143 service aces, the Bulldogs could easily take control of the game with decisive serving and momentum-shifting serving streaks.
However, like the Wildcats, Georgia’s defense has been less than stellar at times, and the team usually hangs around the bottom half of the SEC’s defensive rankings. Thus, the Rebel gameplan will be to take advantage of opponent’s defensive mistakes while minimizing errors.
Georgia and Kentucky represent unique road challenges for the Rebel volleyball team; both teams are full of talented hitters and setters, but each team’s defense leaves something to be desired. But with the season winding down and playoffs looming, Ole Miss cannot afford to leave any points on the table.