ROME, Italy – In its first competition since beginning its European tour, the Texas A&M volleyball team won all five sets against Fidia, a B1 club team ranking a level below the Italian professional league.
Playing five sets instead of the usual best three-out-of five format, all 13 Aggies played a part as A&M defeated Fidia, 25-15, 25-10, 25-21, 28-26, 25-22, at the Circolo Sportivo il Boschetto (sports complex) in Formello-Localita Monte Aguzzo, a suburb of Rome.
“I thought it was a perfect opportunity for us to really just ball handle, serve and pass and get a lot of transition work in,” A&M coach Corbelli said. “The organizer of the trip did a great job of picking a team that would give us that opportunity to maybe not be super challenged right off the bat but to get the kinks out before we get started against the junior national teams.
“(Fidia) had great skills, not as physical as some American teams, but they could do well in the Big 12 Conference. They had some amazing defensive plays and maybe just at the net, they were a little bit down on size but they had good power and shots and were very smart against our block.”
The Aggies showed no signs of fatigue from the travel and sightseeing in Rome, and they quickly adjusted to the mostly open-air complex and its cement flooring. Using a starting lineup consisting of Sarah Ammerman (Parker, Colo.) and Jenny Banse (San Antonio) on the left side, Mary Batis (San Antonio) and setter Kristen Schevikhoven (Centennial, Colo.) on the right side, Darla Donaldson (Murrieta, Calif.) and Jillian Phillips (Marble Falls, Texas) in the middle and Chelsea Ringel (Arlington, Texas) as libero, the Aggies jumped out to a 3-0 lead and continued to widen the gap throughout the first set. Ammerman posted two of her six kills in the set and a block assist during a five-point Aggie run, which gave A&M its biggest lead at 22-11. Fidia scored four of the next six points before a service error gave A&M set point.
“It had been three or four days since we had been on a gym floor,” Corbelli said. “Add the 24-hour trip and a 10-hour sightseeing day, I didn’t know what to expect. They were anxious to get out there and play. They know that is why they are here. I trusted that they would figure out a way, even if they didn’t feel right at first that they would really work to get that feeling.
“For the most part, the cement gym floor and open air made it a real different feel,” Corbelli said. “From the beginning they didn’t want (the surroundings) to be a factor, and they worked really hard to not let that bother them or affect their game. I thought it was maybe one of our top passing and serve receive nights of this spring. Tonight they really did a nice job taking the first ball, and that is usually where you see the affect of a new environment.”
The second set began with the teams trading point for point before A&M broke away from a 3-3 tie. Leading 7-5, the Aggies went on an 8-1 run to go up15-6. Fidia managed only four more points in the set before Jola Kelner (Bielsko-Biala, Poland) deceptively set the ball over for the set-winning point.
Fidia took its first lead of the match on the opening play of the third set, but the Aggies took the lead for good at 6-5 as Schevikhoven got a kill on an over pass. A&M built its biggest lead at 19-14 as Stephanie Minnerly (Arlington, Texas), playing in her first collegiate game after sitting out the spring while recuperating from a shoulder surgery, teamed with Schevikhoven for a block. Fidia got within two points three times before Phillips put down a kill to give A&M the 25-21 victory.
A&M fought back from a 17-11 deficit in the fourth set to tie the score at 22. An ace by Ammerman gave A&M its first lead since 3-1, but Fidia quickly retook the lead at 24-23. Donaldson posted a kill to tie the score, and a kill error put the Aggies on top once again. Fidia tied the score at 25 and 26 before Kelsey Black (Amarillo, Texas) tooled the block for a kill and Fidia committed a kill error to give A&M the win.
“I knew this match tonight would give me the opportunity to play a lot of different combinations of players, and many who have been in the college game for two or three years, and some who have never been in a college game,” Corbelli said. “They got down and had to really fight back. We have really made that a big goal for this tour, just our composure on the court and handling the match.”
A&M used a 7-1 scoring run to take its biggest lead of the fifth set at 20-15. Fidia then reeled off five unanswered points to tie the score at 20-all. The teams traded points and were tied at 22-22 when Kelsey Bryant (Austin, Texas) and Batis each posted a kill and then Donaldson and Banse combined for a block to win the game.
“Our team already grew a little bit today, because we didn’t even start off this well on our side of the court -- composed and that confidently and that aggressive -- for the entire game during the whole spring. Especially being in Europe and after what we’ve been through for three days, I was really, really impressed.”
The Aggies face a much more difficult challenge on Monday and Tuesday as they play a rare two-match series against the Italian Junior National Team in Lignano Sabbiardo, Italy. The national team has agreed to play only powerhouses Stanford, UCLA and Wisconsin in the past.
“They typically just reserve their matches for the top programs in the U.S.,” Corbelli said. “They feel like we qualify as one of those. It will be a true honor, and I think the girls, hearing that from the local people, was really good to hear and gave them a shot of confidence.
“We will have our hands full. They are young, but they are very talented. They have good size. Hopefully our maturity will help us through a lot of that with just having a lot of experience together, and yet there are going to be some very physical players. I can’t wait for that challenge. I know the team is going to embrace it, and we won’t have any choice but to improve, get more mature and get better with each match.”