HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- Southern Miss fans could not ask for much more in Sunday's 3-2 win over Rice (22-25, 15-25, 32-30, 25-20, 15-13). Stephany Purdue in that pivotal third set became the school's all-time career kills leader and closed the day with one more as she joined Chanel Joyce and Makareta Rademakers as the program's all-time winningest senior class (81).
"The whole year they have been able to battle," head coach Amanda Berkley said. "We've had a lot of gritty wins this year, and today was no different. Rice is a very talented team."
Berkley also sang the praises of her senior class.
"The three seniors have meant so much to this program," she said. "Maka brings so much enregy and positive influence on this team. She did a great job today defensively. Chanel really came on strong this year. I'm very proud of her. She has brought so much energy to this team. Stephany Purdue, I'm really proud of her for breaking the record. It's something that's been in sight for her this season and I'm really happy she could do it on Senior Day."
Seven of the 47 ties on the day came in the decisive fifth set, all after Southern Miss took a 3-0 lead. Rice called a timeout and shortly thereafter tied it at 4. Southern Miss got back up 8-5 but two points later had to call a timeout. The Owls took their first lead of the set at 11-10, but kills by Kylie Grandy and Sarah Bell forced Rice to stop play trailing 12-11. Catherine Repsher put Southern Miss at match-point before Purdue slapped a kill straight down for the win.
Rice (17-11, 9-4 C-USA) really put the pressure on with an emphatic 25-15 win before the intermission.
The Golden Eagles (20-7, 9-3 C-USA) certainly used the 10 minutes to their advantage, opening up with an 8-5 lead. Rice tied it back up at points 9-13 before the home team regained its footing and took a 17-13 lead on a Purdue ace. Rice stayed right with it and even went up 23-21 on a kill. The Owls had to regroup after back-to-back attack errors and moments later, Grandy's kill put Southern Miss up 25-24.
Southern Miss was on the brink before a block assist by Joyce and Alexis Coombs saved the day, tying it up at 27. Southern Miss never trailed again, winning 32-30 when it was all over.
Rice still got out to a 10-6 lead in the fourth set before Southern Miss reeled off an 8-0 run that burned two Rice timeouts. An attack error upped the advantage to 21-14, the largest lead of the day for the Golden Eagles.
Southern Miss closes its regular season with a two-match road swing at Louisiana Tech (Thursday at 7 p.m.) and FIU (Saturday at noon CT).
-Southern Miss has produced three consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time in program history.
-That winningest senior class honor also all occurred under Amanda Berkley in her four years at the helm.
-The Golden Eagles have won seven of their last eight home five-set matches.
-It was the first regular-season win over Rice since 2013. The Golden Eagles eliminated the Owls in last season's C-USA Tournament.
-Stephany Purdue's school record for career kills is officially at 1,577.
-Sarah Bell recorded 52 assists, the seventh time this season and 15th of her career she has crossed 50.
-Kylie Grandy took home 16 kills and 15 digs for a team-high 10th double-double. Purdue has seven.
-Grandy's two service aces were a match-high and extended her team lead.
-Alexis Coombs had a match-high six blocks.
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