PREVALJE, Slovenia -- The Texas A&M volleyball team won a pair of matches today, defeating the Slovenian Youth National Team, 25-22, 25-15, 24-26, 27-25, and then coming back from a two-set deficit to defeat the Slovenian Junior National Team, 24-26, 21-25, 25-18, 25-19, 15-10.
In the first match of the day, A&M coach Laurie Corbelli concentrated on getting the reserves more playing time as the Aggies went up against skilled 15 and 16-year olds. Freshmen Kelsey Black (Amarillo, Texas) and Chelsea Ringel (Arlington, Texas) started on the left side. Junior Jennifer Banse (San Antonio, Texas) started on the right side, along with junior setter Jola Kelner (Poland), and senior Kelsey Bryant (Austin, Texas) and freshman Stephanie Minnerly (Arlington, Texas) were the middle blockers. Junior Stephanie Cadavid (San Antonio) was the libero, and junior Dylan Faulkner (Austin, Texas) also saw action in three of the four sets.
"We were able to put together of a group of mostly non-starters and give them a chance just to get some experience and get some time in positions that we will be looking for them to play in the future," Corbelli said. "I was mostly impressed with their poise in tough conditions. The heat in the gym was stifling, and it was very difficult to see the ball because of all the windows."
Things appeared grim for the Aggies in the opening set. Slovenia, which took the lead at 9-8 on back-to-back kills, reeled off three consecutive points to build its biggest lead at 22-17. A service error ended the run and gave the Aggies a point. Kelner then went to the service line and rallied the Aggies for seven more unanswered points to snatch the victory. Kelner had three aces during the run. Minnerly had two blocks, and Black assisted with a block and had two kills, including the game winner.
"I was really excited to see Stephanie Minnerly play in the middle," Corbelli said. "She's a very good young player, and we really don't have any idea yet of her potential and how she will do. She did some really nice things today and played very relaxed and consistent."
A&M scored the first four points of the second set and led the entire set en route to the 25-15 win. Black once again got the set-clinching point, putting down an over pass following Slovenia's errant dig of a powerful Minnerly attack.
Neither team held more than a three-point advantage in the third set until three consecutive A&M attack errors put Slovenia up, 22-18. The Aggies then put together a 6-1 run to put them serving for the match. However, A&M's attack on the ensuing play sailed long and Slovenia registered back-to-back aces to get the win and force a fourth set.
"We just got in a rotation where we had a hard time getting a pass, and we weren't able to run the middle and make it a threat," Corbelli said about the setback. "Then they started camping out on our outsides, who got into a little bit of a rut."
A&M strung together six consecutive points to take its first lead of the fourth set at 16-12. Slovenia then went on a 6-1 to regain an 18-17 edge. A&M countered with four straight points. The Aggies later held a 24-21 lead, but Slovenia stayed alive by scoring three consecutive points, including a debatable call on Black's potentially match-clinching attack that was ruled long. The teams traded points and were tied at 25-all before a Slovenian service error and attack error gave the Aggies the victory.
"Our young group just did a really good job with their cohesion," Corbelli said. "They stayed together and were persistent in what they were trying to get done. It was a very mature approach for a group that is not often put together as a unit in training."
The match against the Slovenia Junior National Team, made up of players born in 1990 and 1991, proved to be quite challenging for A&M veteran squad, but the Aggies made a late comeback to get the win and improve to 5-1 on their European tour.
"Obviously we knew they would be a lot stronger and experienced than their youth team," Corbelli said, "and being down two games to none put us in a position that, as a coach I wasn't glad, but I knew it was going to be good for us, being on the road, tough conditions and finding a way to win. That is one of our big goals on this trip, learning the skill of how to win, finding ways to win."
Banse started on the left along with junior Sarah Ammerman (Parker, Colo.), and Mary Batis (San Antonio) and setter Kristen Schevikhoven (Centennial, Colo.) started on the right side. Seniors Darla Donaldson (Temecula, Calif.) and Jillian Phillips (Marble Falls, Texas) started in the middle, and Ringel moved to libero.
Neither team could build more than a three-point lead in the first set, which saw 11 ties and three lead changes. Trailing 22-19, A&M strung together four straight points to pull ahead, 23-22. Slovenia put down a kill to tie the score, but Phillips responded with a kill to put the Aggies serving for the set. A Slovenian kill tied the score, and they then took the lead after A&M's ensuing attack sailed wide. Slovenia clinched the come-from-behind win with a kill.
"The Junior National Team really challenged us with just a lot more intensity with their attacks and challenged our blocks a lot," Corbelli said.
The second set was another tightly contested affair with Slovenia building the biggest lead of the match at 24-20 following a three-point spurt. A block by Batis and Donaldson extended the frame before Slovenia tooled the Aggie block to win the set and build a 2-0 lead in the match.
A&M jumped out to a 9-3 lead in the third set. Slovenia scored four unanswered points to get within a point at 11-10, but went on a 5-1 run to go up, 16-11. The Aggies held the lead for the remainder of the set. Leading 21-18, A&M closed out the set with a four-point run with Phillips putting down the set-winning point.
"We did flip the lineup a little bit with Kelsey Bryant on the right and Batis on the left," Corbelli said. "We also had some key serving substitutions come in and play some great defense: Jenny Banse, Kelsey Black and Dylan Faulkner. We included 11 of 13 players in the win, and a lot of the role players did a super job when they were out there. The consistency of effort and execution were both remarkable for our group. I was just really proud of them. They handled themselves in a really professional way."
Slovenia took its only lead of the fourth set at 10-9 following a two-point run, but A&M answered with a 6-1 run and kept a lead for the remainder of the set. Slovenia never got closer than three points for the remainder of the set. A&M held a 23-18 lead when Ammerman posted consecutive kills to win the set and tie the match at two sets apiece.
A&M carried the momentum into the decisive fifth set, scoring the first six points. A&M equaled its biggest lead at 11-4 on a Kelner ace. Slovenia got back within four points at 11-7 but could get no closer. The teams exchanged point for point for the remainder of the set. Slovenia's final attack went wide to give A&M the come-from-behind win.
"Our blocking has definitely improved on this trip," Corbelli said. "Just getting the number of attempts to block. It is one of those skills that needs lots and lots of repetition. Our serving is getting better. Our passing, although streaky at times, is improving and we are finding those passers that we need at crucial times that are doing the best jobs at crucial times. We were able to get the momentum on our side and were able to keep it on our side."
A&M will conclude its European tour with a pair of matches against the Czech Republic Junior National Team, Monday and Tuesday in Prague. The matches are expected to be the toughest of the Aggies will face during their tour.
"We expect the Czech Republic team to have a lot of bigger and higher hitting outside hitters, along with a really big block," Corbelli said. "They play more of a Russian style, which means slow approaches with high outside sets, but they just bang. It is a very consistent business-like system. It will have a different feel with very tough serving and blocking and a lot of size."