OMAHA, Neb. – Texas A&M’s Mary Batis had 20 kills and tied a career high with 21 digs, but it wasn’t enough as No. 21 LSU fought off five match points to win a 23-25, 25-21, 20-25, 25-17, 20-18 thriller at the season-opening Bluejay Invitational at the Omaha Civic Auditorium.
“There were a lot of opportunities for us to grab that match,” A&M coach Laurie Corbelli said. “For some reason, most of our team really didn’t play maybe even 25 percent of their ability, and that is probably the hardest part to watch is for some reason we did not have the majority of our starting lineup playing at a really strong intensity and execution level.”
The Aggies scored six unanswered points midway in the fifth set to take their first lead of the frame, 10-8. LSU came back and tied the score at 13-all after blocking a Batis attack, but Batis came right back, answering with a roll-shot kill to put A&M at match point. The teams exchanged point for point, and with the score knotted at 18, an A&M attack went wide to give LSU the lead. The Tigers’ Angela Bensend then put down her 11th kill of the match to clinch the win for LSU.
“We had all of these opportunities, especially in set five to put it away,” Corbelli said. “There were several players who really gave a great effort. I just think that many of them are wishing they could have that match back.”
Bensend was one of four LSU players to reach double digits in kills, while Batis was A&M’s only player to post double figures in kills, tying LSU’s Kyna Washington for match-high honors.
“Mary Batis was certainly most obviously the one that came to play tonight and had a really smooth and beautiful game,” Corbelli said. “It was really Mary against LSU for the most part. Not to take anything away from the other players, it is just that there was a small percentage of each of them that came tonight, and I don’t know the answer.”
Freshman libero Chelsea Ringel and setter Kristen Schevikhoven, who had 15 digs apiece, also drew Corbelli’s praise.
“We had a really fine performance by Chelsea Ringel, her first time starting and only a freshman. She was in our libero spot and she had a very stable, consistent and a really nice game. They served her a lot, and she did a nice job there.
“I thought our setter, Kristen Schevikhoven, also tried to work as best she could with the lack of rhythm in the attack.”
The Aggies took an early lead to open the match, ending the first set with a late three-point run for the come-from behind 25-23 victory. A&M had used a six-point run early in the set to build a 13-6 lead, but LSU slowly narrowed the gap. Trailing 22-19, the Tigers scored four unanswered points -- three on A&M attack errors -- to take a 23-22 lead. It was their first lead since 2-1. A Tiger attack into the net tied the score, and then A&M’s Jillian Phillips blocked Lauren DeGirolamo to put the Aggies up, 24-23. Tania Schatow’s attack sailed long on the ensuing play to end the set.
The second set began with 12 ties before A&M took its first lead at 14-13 on a kill by Kelsey Bryant. It was part of a four-point run, which gave the Aggies their biggest lead at 16-13. LSU once again came back, tying the score three times before regaining the lead at 22-21 on a block. A&M’s next attack went long, and Washington followed with a kill off the block to put the Tigers at set point. The Tiger duo of Brittnee Cooper and Tania Schatow blocked an A&M attack to end the set and even the match at a set apiece.
A&M took its first lead of the third set at 9-8 and went on to build its biggest lead at 16-10. LSU got within two points at 18-16 but could get no closer. With the Aggies up, 23-20, A&M’s Kristen Schevikhoven’s deceptive set over the net fell to the floor to put A&M at set point. After a long rally, Aggie freshman Kelsey Black put down an over pass for the set-winning kill.
After taking a 4-3 lead in the fourth set, LSU never trailed the remainder of the set. The Aggies tied the score at 4-4 on an LSU service error but were held to a -.031 hitting percentage in the set.
LSU, which outhit A&M, .089 to .089 while posting 68 kills to A&M’s 49 for the match, ran its season-opening winning streak to eight, while A&M suffered its first season opener in eight seasons.
The Aggies conclude the tournament with two matches Saturday. A&M faces No. 16 Minnesota at noon and then closes out against host Creighton at 7:30 p.m. The Gophers swept Creighton in the tournament’s other match tonight.
“We have a tough team in Minnesota and home-team Creighton, so we couldn’t ask for anything tougher,” Corbelli said. “This will test our resiliency and the strength of our confidence and the strength of our conviction of how we want to set the tone for the season. We’ll have to see how the team responds. I’m looking forward to it.”