LIGNANO SABBIADORO, Italy -- Italy’s Junior National Team earned a split in the two-match series against Texas A&M, topping the Aggies, 23-25, 32-30, 25-18, 25-17, today at the Palazzetto dello Sport. With the match already determined, the teams agreed to play a fifth set, which the Aggies won, 15-11.
Despite the loss, the Aggie coaches and players benefited from the experience, using the match as an opportunity to experiment with different combinations and giving the younger players valuable playing time.
“We played almost everybody today,” A&M coach Laurie Corbelli said. “We wanted to try a couple of different lineups. We tried (Sarah) Ammerman on the right. We let Kelsey Black swing in the front row, which she hasn’t being doing much of yet on this tour. We used both setters just about equal time. We just really need to make sure we use this time to find what each player can bring to our team while we are in competition, because it is so different from training. I just think that they are getting so much of the experience that it is going to carry over in the fall.”
There were six lead changes and 18 ties in the tightly contested first set, in which neither team could build more than a two-point lead. A&M took its fourth and final lead at 21-20. The teams exchanged points and were tied at 23-all when Mary Batis (San Antonio, Texas) and Jillian Phillips (Marble Falls, Texas) blocked an Italy attack to put the Aggies at game point. Batis then rotated to the service line and promptly delivered an ace to cap the win for the Aggies.
Setter Jola Kelner’s parents got their first opportunity to see their daughter play at the collegiate level as the Poland native played the entire second set.
“We wanted (Jola) to set the starting group and really get into a rhythm,” Corbelli said. “She did a beautiful job, and I know her folks are super proud. This is the first time they have seen her compete collegiately and seen her as the new Jola from two years ago when they last saw her play. It was real satisfying for us to know that she was ready for it, too. She’s conditioned. She’s trained. The team loves playing with her, and she has earned that opportunity to get out there. In fact, I was going to do that whether the parents were here or not. We need to make sure that both setters can run our team, but I was just so glad they got to see her play well and run the team.”
A&M held a lead throughout the first half of the second set, building its largest lead at 16-11. Italy, however, chipped away at the gap and tied the score four times before taking its first lead at 27-26. The teams traded point for point, with the Aggies fighting off set-point at 29-28 and 30-29. Italy then got back-to-back kills to win the set and even the match at a set apiece.
Italy jumped out to an early lead in the third set and held a lead throughout to take a 2-to-1 lead in the match. Trailing 7-2, A&M scored four consecutive points to get within 7-6. Italy answered with a 6-1 run to go up, 13-7. The Aggies could get no closer than five points before Italy won the set, 25-18.
In the fourth set, A&M was unable to overcome a 9-0 Italy run, which gave the Italians a 12-3 lead. The Aggies could get no closer than seven points for the remainder of the set, with Italy posting back-to-back kills to close out the 25-17 victory and clinch the match.
The teams agreed to play a fifth set, and A&M used a five-point scoring run to build a 7-3 advantage. Italy twice got within two points before Batis and Phillips posted back-to-back kills to secure the win.
“I thought we made some really incredible digs today,” Corbelli said. “Our left backs and middle backs got a little better feel for where their hitters like to hit our court. Phillips had a tough day in yesterday’s match, but tonight we definitely got a 100 percent out of Jillian. We were able to use her a lot more, and they didn’t know what to do. They finally decided to double commit on her and so they took her out of it a little bit, because we couldn’t go to her as much. But the other players stepped up. It was a good situation and we learned from it.”
After the match, Corbelli also spoke about the importance of playing against the highly skilled Italian team, which is training for the European Junior National Championships, a prestigious event held every two years and won by Italy in 2006.
“They bring a lot of things that some of the top teams in America bring: a lot of power at the net, some great blocking, amazing defense, and it really puts us in positions that we will be seeing in the fall,” she said. “It gives us a chance to figure out ways around when we are down. For instance, getting down in a match and having to figure out a way to come back, or the way we are working our strategy for the moment, finding the right play, just making the adjustments. It’s just been really a big challenge for this group to make changes immediately against such a good team, but it has been very helpful challenges.”
The Aggies continue their 14-day European tour as they head to Maribor, Slovenia in the morning. They will play three matches against the Slovenian Youth National Team, beginning Thursday.
Daily player blogs and photo galleries of A&M’s European Tour can be seen by clicking on the European Tour volleyball logo at AggieAthletics.com.