SAN DIEGO, CA -- Texas A&M extended its winning streak to five and handed Southern Mississippi its first loss of the season as the Aggies defeated the Golden Knights, 25-20, 25-15, 25-15, in the opening match of the USD Tournament at the Jenny Craig Pavilion.
A&M improves to 5-3, while Southern Miss drops to 7-1.
All 12 suited players saw action for the Aggies, including freshman middle blocker Stephanie Minnerly, who played in the first match of her career. Darla Donaldson, from nearby Temecula, Calif., and Mary Batis led the Aggies with nine kills apiece. Donaldson, who hit .467 for the match, also had five blocks as A&M outblocked the Golden Knights, 9-5.
Jennifer Banse led A&M with 10 digs, and setter Kristen Schevikhoven set a balanced attack, recording 29 assists while also posting two aces and four blocks.
“With all of her contingency here, Darla really wanted to do well,” A&M coach Laurie Corbelli said. “She was really expecting to do well. I thought that she connected really well with the setters and she led our team in blocks tonight. She is doing a beautiful job in blocking.
“We also seemed to have very, very consistent play from Mary Batis. I find it difficult to take her off the court. Many times because she is the stabilizing force. She’s passing. She’s getting lots of kills. She is blocking. She just really brings a lot of positive things to the court. Other people are too. It’s just that Mary is so complete front and back row. It is nice to be able to have her out there.”
A&M was up 20-19 in the opening set. A kill by Donaldson and an ace by Schevikoven, in addition to an USM attack error put A&M up, 23-19. The Golden Knights got a kill, but Sarah Ammerman countered with a kill, and Banse capped the set with a kill.
“I thought that Southern Miss did a really nice job serving us early,” Corbelli said. “They just backed up in the back of the gym and just knocked the ball to put a really tough load on it. It kind of got us a little bit out of our rhythm at first, and that was kind of why we weren’t really producing what we typically produce when we are in system, but I thought it was a really smart choice by them. As the match went along, our blocking cleaned up a little bit, and we got our rhythm going again with our serve reception patterns. Overall the team kept it really positive on the court with really good energy. Defensively, they were really flying everywhere for balls, and I was really relatively pleased.”
A&M held a narrow 15-14 edge in the second set before the Aggies scored nine unanswered points. Kelsey Bryant had eight straight points for A&M before serving into the net. With the score 24-15, Schevikhoven got a solo block to end the set and give A&M a 2-0 lead going into the break.
A&M hit .250 in the set while holding USM to a .000 hitting efficiency, posting nine kills and nine errors in 39 attempts. The Aggies would hold the Golden Knights to a .000 hitting efficiency in the third set as well to close out the match by outhitting Southern Miss, .305 to .059, overall.
The Aggies scored eight consecutive points to start out the third set with Ammerman at the service line. A&M continued to extend its lead throughout the frame. Up 23-11, USM scored three consecutive points on A&M errors, but a kill by Kelsey Black put the Aggies at match point. The Golden Knights stayed alive with a kill before Donaldson clinched the victory with a kill.
Stevi Cherry led Southern Miss with nine kills.
The Aggies play two matches Saturday to conclude the tournament A&M takes on Cal State Fullerton at noon (PDT) and then faces host and 20th-ranked San Diego at 7:30 p.m. (PDT). Audio of both matches will be available at AggieAthletics.com, with Matt Simon calling the action.