Mississippi State Volleyball Season Review

Published 3:00 pm Saturday, May 8, 2021

STARKVILLE – When Mississippi State volleyball head coach Julie Darty Dennis reflects on the unprecedented 2020-21 season, she sees it as another positive step for her program. Darty Dennis led her group to series sweeps of No. 7 Texas A&M and rival Ole Miss, as well as a series split against Georgia to close the campaign.

“There is a tremendous amount of progress being made,” Darty Dennis said. “It is sometimes hard to see, but sustainable progress takes time and this team gets it and feels it. Looking back, it almost feels like two totally separate seasons. During the fall we made history with the Texas A&M sweep, and it set the tone. They were so proud of that win and wanted to keep building.

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“Our spring had a totally different feeling to it – but we had some great signature wins during that season as well. Beating Ole Miss twice on our home court and splitting with a talented Georgia team, going from two SEC wins in 2019 to five in 2020-21 was a good jump for us.”

Maybe the most illustrative piece in showing the program’s progress was a culmination of two student-athletes’ hard work on the court all season long. Days after the conclusion of the season, junior Gabby Waden and freshman Lilly Gunter became the first-ever Bulldog duo to earn All-SEC honors in the same season. Waden is the first Bulldog All-SEC team honoree since Caitlin Rance in 2011, the 11th Bulldog all-time and MSU’s first-ever right side hitter, while Gunter was one of seven SEC All-Freshman Team selections.

Waden and Gunter join Deja Robinson as the three Bulldogs to earn All-SEC recognition in as many seasons during the Julie Darty Dennis era. Robinson was named to the 2018 All-Freshman team in Darty Dennis’ first season at the helm.

Waden and Gunter also earned AVCA All-Region honors, with Gunter receiving an honorable mention selection.

“Overall, this season was a great building block for our program,” Darty Dennis said. “We earned some individual accolades and awards which is huge for our program. Those two certainly deserve the recognition that they received, and their teammates are so excited for them.”

Despite playing just three rotations, Waden finished her junior season No. 6 in the SEC in kills (3.85 per set), the second-best mark among league right sides, and No. 8 in points (4.11 per set). Her .322 hitting percentage ranks No. 4 in program history.

The Columbia, South Carolina, native tallied double-digit kills in 16 of 20 matches, with the other four all coming in three-set contests. During the spring portion of the season, Waden averaged 4.00 kills per set on a sharp .333 hitting percentage.

In her rookie campaign, Gunter started every set in the libero jersey. She ranked No. 6 in the SEC in digs (3.43 per set), the second-best mark among conference rookies, leading an MSU defense that finished No. 6 in the league (13.93 digs per set).

On February 15, Gunter earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors after recording 4.29 digs per set in MSU’s series sweep of in-state rival Ole Miss at the Newell-Grissom Building. Gunter helped State hold Ole Miss to a .140 hitting percentage between the two matches, including a .057 mark in the series opener.

MSU also attacked efficiently in the series sweep of the Rebels to the tune of a .271 hitting percentage as an all-around great team performance allowed the Bulldogs to take a pair of victories in just seven total sets. In the second match of the series, State hit .290, its best hitting percentage in an SEC match since averaging .323 against Georgia on Nov. 26, 2016.

Gunter was the second Bulldog to earn an SEC weekly award after Callie Minshew was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week on November 9 after her performance in the series sweep at No. 7 Texas A&M. Minshew tallied 33 total digs (3.67 per set) to become the first MSU player to earn defensive player of the week laurels since Bali Leffall-Young was named a co-honoree on October 20, 2014.

State traveled to Bryan-College Station for its third series of the fall November 4-5, and returned with the program’s second and third ranked victories all-time, as well as State’s first consecutive SEC wins since 2016. In maybe her best series performance of the season Waden recorded 44 total kills, including a season-best 24 in the second match, plus a .344 hitting percentage to lead MSU’s offense in Aggieland.

MSU finished its season on a high note, taking the first of two contests against Georgia at The Griss. In the win, Robinson tallied eight kills on an efficient .452 hitting mark to go with nine blocks, her second-best blocking total for the year. Robinson finished the season with 12 solo blocks to bring her career total to 60, which ranks No. 7 in MSU history.

Capping the 2020-21 academic year, four MSU volleyball student-athletes graduated following the spring semester. Logan Brown and Kendall Murr each earned their undergraduate degrees, while Margaret Dean and Jessica Kemp both completed graduate degrees. Continuing academic success in the Julie Darty Dennis era, a program-record 10 student-athletes were named to the SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll in February.

Rounding out individual awards, sophomore setter Katie Culumovic was named to the SEC Community Service Team in April. Culumovic participated in service opportunities benefitting Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi, and members of the Jackson community impacted by winter storms, as well as residents of Carrington Nursing Center in Starkville.

“There is so much to be proud of on the court, and there is a lot that happened off the court that we are just as excited about,” Darty Dennis said. “Looking back on this year, we have a lot of fond volleyball memories to reflect on during what was such a tough time in the world, and we are so grateful for this season.”

For more information on the Bulldogs, follow the program on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram by searching @HailStateVB.