COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Texas A&M pushed No. 3 Nebraska to the brink, forcing the heavily favored Huskers to their first five-set match of the season. But Nebraska, with its tremendous serving game accounting for 11 aces, prevailed, 23-25, 25-17, 25-14, 20-25, 15-13, tonight in front of 1,387 at G. Rollie White Coliseum.
The match marked the end of a grueling seven-match stretch in which the Aggies have faced the Huskers twice and No. 3 Texas twice, as well as a match at No. 16 Kansas State.
“I feel like overall it was a really successful night for us if you don’t look at the score,” A&M coach Laurie Corbelli said. “For us, we’ve been having a roller coaster ride with our momentum and our confidence, just a lot of things. Our rhythm has kind of been come-and-go, and I felt like tonight was just one of those nights where we never backed off and we stayed in our system as much as we could and did the little things a lot better.”
A&M, which had been swept by the Huskers in each of the last 10 meetings and had lost a total of 32 consecutive sets to Nebraska, grabbed the momentum early in the match. Sarah Ammerman paced the Aggies with four kills early while helping the Aggies put together three three-point runs en route to a 12-5 lead in the first set. The Huskers later used a 7-1 rally to tie the score at 18, but A&M came back to score five of the next six points, three on Nebraska errors. With A&M up, 23-19, the Huskers got two kills and an ace to get within 23-22 before Mary Batis’ roll shot fell in for a kill to put the Aggies at set point. Tara Mueller kept Nebraska alive with a kill, but Batis came right back with her sixth kill to clinch the set.
Nebraska never trailed in the second set, but the Aggies stayed within striking distance throughout the first half of the frame and tied the score for the first time at 15-all. Nebraska got the serve back on a block sending Jordan Larson to the service line, where she posted back-to-back aces. Mueller followed with consecutive kills to quickly put the Huskers up, 20-15. Batis ended the run with a kill, but Nebraska, which held A&M to a .020 hitting percentage in the stanza, reeled off four more points to go up, 24-16. A Batis kill off the block extended the set, but setter Sydney Anderson clinched the set and evened the match with a dump kill.
Nebraska jumped out to an 8-3 lead in the third set and was up 10-6 when the Huskers pulled away by scoring eight unanswered points. A&M, which was outhit, .406 to .125, twice got within eight points before back-to-back kills by Kori Cooper and Mueller ended the set.
With the score tied at 5-5 in the fourth set, A&M went on a 9-1 run. Nebraska answered with a 6-1 run to get within 15-12 and later scored four straight points to get within 19-17 and force an A&M timeout. A&M scored twice immediately following the timeout, getting back-to-back kills by Ammerman and Jennifer Banse, but Larson and Mueller countered with kills to stay within two points. After exchanging sideouts, A&M setter Kristen Schevikhoven got a lucky drop-in kill after a bad line-drive pass to the net left her no other option but to dink the ball over. Ammerman followed with a kill from the back row, and Batis capped the frame and sent the match to a fifth set with a solo block on an attack by Amanda Gates.
There were three lead changes and seven ties in the final set, the last tie coming at 10-10. Nebraska then posted three consecutive kills, including two by Larson, go up, 13-10. Batis and Kelsey Bryant countered with kills for A&M before Mueller’s kill put the Huskers at match point. Ammerman kept the Aggies alive with her season-high and match-high 20th kill before Larson ended the match with a kill.
“I thought the fifth game, especially after switching sides and we tied it up, I felt like it could have gone either way,” Corbelli said. “That is the point in a match where you’ve got to hope that you get lucky in a lot of situations. From the referee calls to no calls, it can’t bother you. You’ve just got to go with the flow, and in the last two minutes the winner is determined, and yet it could have been either way.
“We have to keep that in our minds that maybe the scorecard doesn’t show it, but we know it. I just felt like we have a lot to be proud of. We were going for the win, there was no doubt about it. I think that was really one of the most fun parts for me was seeing the belief in my team’s eyes the whole night.”
Nebraska libero Kayla Banwarth led all players with 27 digs and three aces. Mueller, who had a team-high 19 kills, added two aces, as did Larson and Anderson.
“They do an amazing job of coaching their servers,” Corbelli said. “They hardly missed at all, and if they did it was just by a little. This may be the toughest serving team in the nation, and for our team to get aced a lot of times and to really not let it take us totally out of our game was really a big step for us.”
Larson also posted double figures in kills with 17 and led all players with eight blocks as the Huskers outblocked A&M, 13-9, while narrowly outhitting A&M, .179 to .168.
Aggie freshman libero Kelsey Black had a career-high 23 digs as A&M tallied a team season-high 90 digs. Ammerman posted her first 20-20 performance of the season with 20 kills and 21 digs, and Batis added 15 digs. Kelsey Bryant pitched in a team-leading seven blocks for the Aggies.
With the win, Nebraska improves to 22-1 overall and stays atop the Big 12 Conference at 13-1. A&M drops to 10-14, 5-9 and finds itself needing to win its final six matches to finish above .500 and be eligible for the NCAA tournament.
“In the midst of this very difficult, tough competition, win or lose, I think the team needs to realize that we have improved a lot,” Corbelli said. “It is hard to see sometimes, but I saw it tonight, our improvement in some of the little things we have been working on for sure. I feel like maybe it was just the way it was supposed to be. It was set up so that it’s prepared us to take on these last six matches and go in with the confidence we have to have and with the momentum. I think the team should be holding their heads high and be really proud of their performance tonight. I thought it was a huge success for us tonight.”
The Aggies have a bye this weekend and then return to G. Rollie, Wednesday, Nov. 12 to play host to the Iowa State Cyclones. Match time is 6:30 p.m.