COLLEGE STATION – Texas A&M tallied a season-high 23 blocks, but it wasn’t enough as the Aggies fell to No. 18 Kansas State, 23-30, 30-24, 30-27, 30-23, in front of 2,198 at G. Rollie White Coliseum.
The Aggies (12-4, 2-4 Big 12) appeared ready for an upset to begin the match, jumping out to a 20-9 lead in the opening game. K-State rallied and cut the gap to five points at 23-18 before A&M reeled off four unanswered points to go up, 27-18. K-State’s Natalya Korobkova ended the run with a kill and then teamed for a block. Rita Liliom followed with an ace to put the Wildcats within 27-21, but that would be the closest they could get. The teams traded points before Sarah Ammerman put down a kill to give the Aggies a 30-23 win.
The Aggies hit .300 in the frame and posted nine blocks to help hold the Wildcats to a .000 hitting efficiency.
K-State (13-3, 5-1 Big 12), which entered the match having won seven of its last eight matches, scored the first two points of the second game, and although A&M managed to tie the score seven times throughout the game, the Aggies were unable to ever take the lead. A&M tied the score for the final time at 16, but a kill by Korobkova kept the Wildcats in the lead. K-State went on to hold a 27-24 lead and then closed out the game with a three-point run.
“In game one when we came out really on fire and passing well, we had a lot of confidence,” A&M coach Laurie Corbelli said. “We were doing some really good things, and our blocking was pretty incredible. Once we switched courts and started over again, we gave up a couple of runs of points, maybe not three or four-point runs, but points of two here and two there, and it started to increase the margin.
“They served really tough and it took us a little bit out of system, which puts way too much pressure on our left sides to handle the whole load. Our middles and rights, when we were in system, we were unstoppable. I just felt like we needed to improve our passing, and we got into ruts of passing trouble again.”
A&M held a late lead in Game 3, but K-State overtook the lead and the momentum to take a 2-1 game lead. With the score tied at 23, A&M rallied for four straight points to go up 27-23 and build its second largest lead of the game. The Aggies were looking for only three points to close out the game, but K-State’s Stacey Spiegelberg served the Wildcats to seven consecutive points for the come-from-behind win.
K-State carried the momentum into the fourth game. The Wildcats never trailed, and after A&M tied the score for the fifth time at 6-6, Korobkova put down back-to-back kills to give K-State a lead it would not relinquish. K-State built its biggest lead at 14-8 following a three-point run. A&M later used a four-point rally to get within 18-17 but could get no closer. With K-State up, 27-23, Rita Liliom unleashed three consecutive kills to clinch the victory for the Wildcats.
“So many of these matches come down to the serving and passing,” Corbelli said. “We are able to be tough at the net with our attack. We have a great setter. We have a good system, but teams get on runs of serving points that we let affect us a little too much. It’s not reciprocated by the other team. They are not breaking down in their passing at all, and that is what I see that we most need to improve in very quickly.”
Ammerman and Mary Batis led A&M in kills with 13 and 12, respectively, but neither hit over .000 as the Aggies were held to a .132 hitting percentage as a team.
Defensively, Jillian Phillips led A&M with a career-high 10 blocks. Kelly Stanton added nine, and Kelsey Bryant added a career-high eight blocks. Jen Moore tied Batis for team-high honors in digs with a career-high 19, and setter Kristen Schevikhoven also reached double figures with 10 digs.
“I’m excited about [the blocking], because we have been working a lot on in, but we have October and November still to go, and we are starting to click in that area,” Corbelli said. “That is really a good thing for us. It is something that is very necessary. We have struggled with it most of the season so far, so we are hoping that it sticks with us.”
Korobkova finished with a match-high 17 kills for the Wildcats, and Liliom and Jenny Jantsch added 16 and 14 kills, respectively. Libero Angie Lastra had a match-high 23 digs, and Kelsey Chipman had a match-high 12 blocks as the Wildcats finished with 17.5.
The Aggies return to the court Wednesday as they play host to No. 7 Texas in the first edition of the State Farm Lone Star Showdown. The match begins at 6:30 p.m. at G. Rollie White Coliseum, and ESPNU will televise the match.
“The team is really down about this loss tonight, because they really believed they could win it,” Corbelli said. “They don’t give up, and they are ready to get in and work, and they’ll be ready and fired up for Wednesday night.”