Looking to rebound from their Friday night loss to Auburn, the Rebels took to the court in a mid-afternoon Sunday, ending in a 3-1 victory against the Alabama Crimson Tide.
To the tune of missed serves, hitting errors and a clear lack of rhythm, the Rebels left themselves with a 5-12 first-game, seven-point deficit in front of their home crowd.
After falling behind early, something clicked, but the lead was just out of reach. Anchored by strong swings from Emily Stroup on the right side and a smattering of kills from the middle, Ole Miss pulled within two at 14-16. Trading points for a moment, Alabama was eventually able to pull away and took the first set 18-25.
After starting similarly to Friday’s loss, the Rebels came out with a vengeance in the second set, hoping to turn the weekend around and avoid a case of deja vu.
With the Rebels jumping out to a 7-2 lead, the Crimson Tide wanted to talk it over. Coming out of the Tide timeout, senior outside hitter Kate Gibson seemingly floated from the back row and put an electric swing straight down.
However, the Rebels couldn’t capitalize on the momentum and let the Tide back in the game to rally to a one-point lead at 8-9.
The deficit only lasted a moment. Gibson tapped in to her veteran role and came alive, recording two aces, four kills and five digs in the second game. While Gibson was the clear catalyst, the Rebels’ 25-21 second-set victory saw key swings from Bayleigh Scott and Lexi Thompson.
“As a team, going from the first set to the second set, we said, ‘Someone needs to step up and play,’” Gibson said. “I think by telling people in the huddle that you’re going to be the difference, I kind of convinced myself to be the difference and think it switched the momentum for the whole day.”
In the most competitive set from the get-go, both teams traded points, kills and errors. The first timeout for Ole Miss came down 14-15 and proved ineffective. Three sloppy errors led to coach McRoberts calling his second timeout at 14-18. Still unable to find a spark, the Rebels fell behind 15-22 and took their third and final timeout of the set.
Down to its final point, Ole Miss saw hitters Caitlin Wernentin, Thompson and Gibson get in some hard kills to bring the score to 20-24, forcing Alabama to call its second timeout.
Following the stoppage of play, a crazy rally was put to rest by Thompson on the block and followed up by a Scott stuff that brought about Alabama’s final timeout at 22-24.
“I knew that I needed to step up,” Scott said. “I just did whatever I could to be the best teammate I could be.”
Nothing could stop the Rebels this time. Down two, Scott made her presence felt once more and put up a massive block that put the Rebels within one. A quick error and unsuccessful opposing challenge later, and the set was tied at 24 with the Rebels at the line.
“We didn’t have any type of fear,” Scott said. “We just went hard and had the confidence that we are going to win.”
That’s when Gibson came through once again and put a back-row attack through an Alabama triple block for a Rebel match point.
“I think (back-row attacks) came very natural at the beginning of the season,” Gibson said. “And then for some reason, all the attacks lost the connection. Today, I knew to just swing. Trust our setters and swing.”
A Thompson smash later and Ole Miss took the game and a one-set match lead, 26-24.
“We just got on a really good run,” McRoberts said. “We had multiple people step up with either blocks or kills, just a great run for us. I can’t remember being a part of something like that when an opposing team has a set point on one of my teams.”
The fourth game proved to be just as gritty, with neither team able to pull ahead through the first 36 points of the match, tied at 18. After an Alabama error, Gibson stepped to the line to serve and dropped a floater right at the 10-foot line for a two-point lead. After a Thompson kill and a Crimson Tide error, the Rebels led 22-18.
Trading points again for a moment, the Rebels took a timeout up 23-21 and came out locked in. Setter Jordan Fate placed the ball beautifully on the right side for Stroup to put the ball down and give the Rebels match point. Doing what she does, Thompson put the match away.
“Back and forth, back and forth, it seemed like neither team could get more than a two-point lead until us at the end,” McRoberts said. “It came down to timely serving, and, of course, Lexi had a few kills and the one that finished it at the end.”
The Rebels gained the 3-1 victory with a score of 18-25, 25-21, 26-24, 25-22. Ole Miss will hit the road Wednesday for a mid-week matchup against in-state rival Mississippi State, a game for which coach McRoberts is preaching consistency
“That was also one of the things we talked about after the match on Friday,” McRoberts said. “We just need to be more consistent. We can’t have two players playing lights out. We need contributions from everybody to win.”