KNOXVILLE, TN -- Texas A&M picked up its biggest win of the season, defeating defending Southeastern Conference champion and preseason league favorite Tennessee, 15-25, 25-22, 25-20, 27-29, 15-9, tonight at Thompson-Boling Arena.
It was the eighth consecutive victory for the Aggies, who improve to 23-5 overall and 15-4 in SEC matches. Tennessee, which also entered the match riding a seven-match win streak, falls to 21-7, 14-5.
Junior setter Allie Sawatzky dished out a career-high 66 assists as four A&M players posted double figures in kills. Alisia Kastmo led the Aggies with 18 kills, and Lindsey Miller pitched in a season-high 17 kills while hitting at a .593 clip. Tori Mellinger had 13 kills, and freshman Shelby Sullivan came off the bench to contribute a career-high 11 kills while hitting .494 in the win.
The Aggies got off to a slow start and were out of sync in the opening set as Tennessee led the entire frame, outhitting the Aggies .387 to .077, to pull away for the 25-15 win.
Unlike the first set, the second set turned into a back-and-forth battle that saw 15 ties and seven lead changes with the Aggies prevailing, 25-22. The Lady Vols held an 18-17 lead after notching two consecutive kills, but a service error and two kills by Kastmo gave the Aggies what was then their largest lead at 20-18. Tennessee called a timeout and came back with a kill and a block to tie the score at 20-20. Kastmo then got a kill, tipping the ball to the sideline, and Tennessee hit wide on the ensuing play to put A&M up 22-20 and force another Tennessee timeout.
A&M had one of its season-high 12 service errors in the match and its third of the set coming out of the timeout, but Kastmo hammered a kill through the Tennessee block on the next play to put A&M up, 23-21. A&M had another crucial service error, but Kastmo tooled the block for a kill on the next play. She then had a well-placed tip attack from the back row, and the ball fell untouched to the center of the Tennessee court for the set-winning kill.
Kastmo, who had three kills in the first set, posted seven kills in the second set and scored three of the last four points in the stanza for the 25-22 win that tied the match at 1-1.
A&M jumped out to 5-0 lead to start the third set, including a dig by Sawatzky that fell in for a kill. The lucky play was an indicator of how the set would go, as the Aggies outhit the Lady Vols, .471 to .229 en route to the win. A&M continued to widen the gap and used a 3-0 run to build its largest lead at 18-11. The teams exchanged sideouts, with A&M’s Sierra Patrick also getting a dig to fall for a kill to put A&M up 22-15. The Lady Vols then got a kill and a stuff block to get within 22-17, but Kastmo countered with a cross-court kill to the back corner and Miller and Sawatzky followed with a block to put the Aggies at set point. Tennessee fought off three set points before Kastmo got a kill following an A&M timeout to clinch the win and give the Aggies a 2-1 lead in the match.
Both teams fought off set points in the fourth set, which would have 17 ties and nine lead changes. Tennessee forged to a 17-12 advantage following a 7-1 run, but Miller had two blocks and two kills in a 5-0 surge by A&M that tied the score at 17-all. A&M would later regain the lead at 19-18 as Heather Reynolds made a play-saving dig that led to a Mellinger kill. The momentum quickly shifted back to Tennessee, however, as the Lady Vols scored six of the next seven points to be serving for the set, 24-20.
Mellinger kept the Aggies alive, blasting a kill to a wide-open center court, and Kastmo followed with a tip kill. Tennessee then hit long, and an ace by Sawatzky knotted the score at 25-25. Tennessee went up, 26-25, but Kastmo tipped the ball in for a kill and Patrick followed with a kill that put A&M at set and match point. Tennessee rallied once again, getting two kills to take a 28-27 lead. A&M then hit long on the next play to give the Lady Vols a 29-27 win and force a decisive fifth set.
Tennessee held a narrow 5-4 lead in the final stanza when Miller took over at the net, posting a kill on the slide attack which began a 6-1 run by the Aggies. Miller, who was five-for five in attack attempts and led A&M to a .318 to .095 hitting percentage in the set, had four kills and a block during the rally that put the Aggies up, 10-6. A&M hit wide on the next play, but Sullivan got a kill and Tennessee hit wide to put the Aggies ahead, 12-7. Tennessee put down a kill on an A&M overpass, but Sullivan answered with a kill to keep the five-point lead for the Aggies and force a Tennessee timeout. The Lady Vols got a kill coming out of the timeout, and A&M called its first timeout leading 13-9. Kastmo got a kill coming out the timeout, putting the Aggies at match point. Miller and Patrick then clinched the crucial victory with a block.
A&M finished with a season-high 77 kills while hitting .282. Tennessee had 64 kills and hit .251 in the loss. The Lady Vols outblocked A&M, 13-10.
Libero Megan Pendergast led A&M’s back row defense with a match-high 22 digs. Kastmo and Mellinger completed double-doubles as they finished with 12 digs each, and Reynolds had 11 digs.
Miller led A&M and tied her season high with seven blocks and also led A&M players with a personal season-high 20.5 points.
Kelsey Robinson led Tennessee with 18 kills.
The Aggies conclude the regular season at Ole Miss, Friday at 7 p.m. at the Gillom Sports Center in Oxford, Miss. Free live audio of the match will be available at AggieAthletics.com.
The 64-team NCAA Championship bracket will be announced Sunday, Nov. 25 at 3 p.m. on ESPNU.