Southern Miss Volleyball splits series with South Alabama

Game One: Courtesy of Southern Miss Athletics

HATTIESBURG, MS – Southern Miss (8-5, 0-1 Sun Belt) dropped its Sun Belt opener to South Alabama (7-6, 1-0 Sun Belt) in four sets on Friday. The Golden Eagles’ two-headed monster of Mia Wesley and Kenzie Smith did not disappoint as the duo combined for 27 kills and 50 assists.

Southern Miss and South Alabama combined for 14 ties over the first two sets as the two teams each took a set from one another. With the first set tied at 10-all, South Alabama used a 6-2 run to pull ahead on the Golden Eagles.

Freshman Cailin Demps took over in the second set to propel the Golden Eagles to a 25-21 win. Demps recorded four kills and a block in the second set, while Cara Atkinson added three kills and a block.

South Alabama took a firm grasp of the momentum in the third set as they grabbed a 1-0 lead and never relinquished it. It would lead by as many as six before South Miss cut the deficit to 20-19 on an Atkinson kill. Wesley would briefly make it 24-21, but the Jaguars responded to win the set, 25-21.

The fourth set featured six ties and two lead changes, but South Alabama hung on to win, 28-26. Demps and Wesley each had six kills in the set, while Madi Bowles had two of her four kills in the final frame. The Golden Eagles had set point at 26-25, but a kill, Southern Miss attacking error, and Jaguar block sealed the victory.

Wesley’s game-high 26 kills came with a .250 hitting percentage, while Atkinson finished with 11 kills and a .500 hitting percentage.

Sophomore Megan Harris exploded for a career-high 32 digs, which was the most of any player on either team. Demps finished with a career-high 12 kills after setting her previous best last weekend.

Game Two: SM2 Sports Director Austin Lindsey

HATTIESBURG, MS – Southern Miss fell short of a comeback against South Alabama Friday but outlasted the Jaguars in a five-set thriller Saturday. In the fifth set, knotted at 14, Gillian Hidalgo forced a match point, setting up a Cara Atkinson spike down the middle, giving Southern Miss its first SBC win.

“I’m so proud of our team after we lost a tough one last night where we felt like we started out slow and fought back. We had our mindset coming in today to execute from the start of the match,” Head Volleyball Head Coach Jenny Hazelwood said.

Atkinson finished with 15 kills with a .275 hitting percentage and three blocks, finishing second in kills.

“She’s so competitive that we know we can get her the ball in the most clutch situations,” Hazelwood said.

The Golden Eagles opened early with a 9-6 lead after a Mia Wesley spike to left court. The Jaguars then rallied back and eventually grasped the set 25-19.

Southern Miss led 6-3 in the second set after an emphatic block at the net by Demps. The Golden Eagles held this three-point lead until South Alabama pushed back to 14-13. Afterward, Southern Miss exploded its offense on a four-point rally.

South Alabama wouldn’t go away, though, responding to within one point again at 22-21 on an attack error. The Golden Eagles pulled away as Atkinson called the set the game on a spike to end the set 25-23. Southern Miss grasped the lead at 11-9 in the third on a lengthy rally. Southern Miss clawed to hold on to this lead, taking a 20-17 lead on Gillian Hidalgo & Ari Barksdale’s block at the net on the Jaguars. Atkinson dropped a kill over the net on another set point, taking the set 25-22.

The Jaguars opened the fourth set poised to force a fifth by taking an early 5-2 lead. The Jaguars continued to thrive on this lead after an ace by Paige Lynn at 13-8 and expanded the lead to ten at 21-11. Hannah Muddax ended the set 25-12 with a hard kill in search of a sweep against Southern Miss. Maddox finished the day with 23 kills on a .215 hitting percentage, four blocks, and seven digs.

“The unique thing about volleyball is the score starts at zero every time, and you have to win three of them. The mental piece of being that focused is that you have to be focused on every small detail. Going up 2-1 one, we lost a little bit of mental focus and got frustrated, leading to more points scored, ” Hazelwood said.

“Our message to them at the start of the fifth set was to flush it, let it go, it’s over, and we can not hold on to it in the slightest bit,” Hazelwood said.

Southern Miss opened the final set on a mission, leading 3-0 as Mia Wesley opened with two kills to begin. South Alabama began to find its groove, scoring the last seven points of the previous nine points in the set. Cailin Demps helped the Golden Eagles meet the challenge, assisting the Golden Eagles in regaining the lead at 8-7. Down the stretch, things would be tied at ten all until a thumping kill by Cara Atkinson gave the Golden Eagles a one-point lead at 11-10.

At 13-11, Wesley sparked excitement through the Wellness Center on a kill. South Alabama hung in a couple of plays longer, but Hidalgo forced a match point on a touch over the net as Cara Atkinson closed the match. Wesley led all scores in kills with 24 on the day and 25 digs on two blocks. Kenzie Smith also broke her previous career high of 59 assists versus Stephen F. Austin with 61 assists on the day.

Southern Miss (9-5, 1-1) now hosts Troy (7-7,1-1) back at the Wellness Center Friday on Sept. 30 at 6.