Sitting at 10-5 on the season, Ole Miss volleyball head coach Steven McRoberts’ team is entering a crucial stretch of its 31-game season.
Last Friday saw the Rebels begin SEC play against Auburn, and Sunday saw them record their first SEC win of the season against Alabama. Now sitting at 1-1 in conference play, Ole Miss will leave the comfort of its home court to take on the struggling Mississippi State Bulldogs.
The Rebels’ win Sunday marked the first time in seven years that the team has won in its first weekend of SEC play. Carrying that momentum into Wednesday’s match with the Bulldogs will be McRoberts’ primary focus.
“We are going in with more motivation than we have had in the past, especially understanding that we can get to 2-1 in the league,” McRoberts said.
The implications of the matchup in Starkville will be enough to make this head-to-head worth watching, but the history between the schools will add an even greater level of drama to the action.
While Ole Miss leads Mississippi State 69-26 all time, the Bulldogs have taken the last three victories from the Rebels, including the last two in Starkville. Despite recent history pointing in favor of the Bulldogs, McRoberts and his team will look to continue on the success they have found early this season and put the losing streak behind them.
Ole Miss’ success so far this season can be attributed to many factors, including the highly impressive play of seniors Kate Gibson and Lexi Thompson and sophomore Nayo Warnell. Gibson and Thompson are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the SEC in double-doubles, respectively, with Thompson holding the career record at Ole Miss with 44. Warnell’s seventh-ranked hitting percentage (.347) in the SEC has certainly helped as well.
As a team, Ole Miss ranks first in the SEC in digs per set (17.35), third in kills (13.88) and fourth in opponent hitting percentage (.164) and assists (12.92). The eye-catching individual and team play have not only led to the Rebels’ early success this season but also distinguished them from their Wednesday night opponents.
Mississippi State is sitting right over .500 at 9-8 on the season, losing all three sets in four of its losses. In SEC play, the Bulldogs have already fallen to 0-2, another sign of hope for the Rebels ahead of their matchup.
At just 5-4 in its home environment so far this year, Mississippi State’s home-court advantage may also not be as strong as past years have made it appear.
Ole Miss has struggled the past few years in its clashes with in-state rival Mississippi State, but this season’s upward trajectory suggests that the pair’s past might just be the past after all. With the leadership and talent of Gibson and Thompson as well as the invaluable contributions from younger play-makers like Warnell and Emily Stroup, the Rebels will look to maintain their success against the Bulldogs and go 2-1 in conference play.