ATHENS, Ga. – Texas A&M erased a 2-0 match deficit, rallying for a 15-25, 23-25, 25-20, 25-18, 15-10 win over Georgia Sunday afternoon at Ramsey Student Center.
It was the sixth consecutive victory for the Aggies, who improve to 21-5 on the season and 13-4 in SEC play after getting key contributions from several players who came off the bench and made numerous clutch plays in the comeback win.
Georgia came out looking determined to snap its four-match losing skid, scoring the first four points of the match and handily leading the entire first set as A&M made numerous errors and struggled to get in sync. The Bulldogs, who outhit the Aggies .406 to .139, built their largest lead at 24-15 as A&M hit into the net. A&M manage to stave off three set points before Lauren Teknipp put down the closing kill for Georgia.
Georgia used a 7-1 run to build a 12-7 lead in the second set. The Bulldogs later held a 20-17 advantage when a kill by Tori Mellinger from the right side began a four-point run by the Aggies. A&M setter Allie Sawatzky followed with an ace, as her serve skimmed the back line. Mellinger then tooled the block for another kill and then teamed with Stephanie Minnerly for a block that gave the Aggies a 21-20 advantage. The lead was short lived as A&M committed three consecutive attack errors to hand the Bulldogs a 23-21 lead. Georgia then hit long and Aggie freshmen Shelby Sullivan and Sierra Patrick combined for a block that tied the score at 23-all. The Bulldogs, who outhit A&M .270 to .250, would come back with consecutive kills to close out the 25-23 win and take a 2-0 lead in the match heading into the break.
Sullivan, who for the last several matches has typically been coming in to serve for the Aggies, started the third set at middle blocker and got A&M started on the right foot with an aggressive kill on the slide attack. Mellinger followed with an ace, and the Aggies kept the lead for the remainder of the set.
A&M used a three-point run to build its largest lead at 13-8. Georgia would pull within two points four times before the Aggies’ Alisia Kastmo posted back-to-back kills and Ashley Vrana, who came in off the bench for the first time at 19-16, hammered a kill down the block to give the Maroon and White a 21-16 lead. Georgia countered with two points, but Vrana got a kill to keep A&M ahead, 22-18. The teams exchanged sideouts, with a Georgia attack error putting the Aggies at set point. Mellinger then put down a kill to win the set.
With the score tied 3-3 in the fourth set, Vrana had back-to-back kills and also teamed for a block during a 5-0 surge that put A&M ahead, 8-3, and gave the Aggies a lead they would not lose. Georgia stayed within striking distance at 13-10 when A&M erupted for six unanswered points behind strong net play by Kastmo and Lindsey Miller, as well as Sullivan’s aggressive serving. The Bulldogs, who were outhit .325 to .171 in the stanza, later scored three unanswered points to get within 23-18, and A&M coach Laurie Corbelli called a timeout. The Aggies came back onto the court and immediately got a kill by Sullivan. Mellinger then stepped to the service line and served a ball that went untouched before hitting the back line for an ace to clinch the 25-18 win and even the match at two sets apiece.
Georgia held a 2-1 lead early in the deciding fifth set when Sullivan and Sawatzky had back-to-back kills to give the Aggies the lead. Although the Bulldogs would tie the score at 3-3 and 4-4, A&M would never trail for the remainder of the match. Vrana broke the 4-4 tie with her career-high seventh kill, and Mellinger followed with a kill down the line. Kelsey Kinley then served an ace to cap a 3-0 run that put the Aggies up, 7-4. Georgia got within 7-6, but Sawatzky prevented the tie as she attacked the second ball for a kill. Libero Megan Pendergast followed with an ace to put the Aggies up, 9-6. Georgia then got a kill, but after teaming with Sawatzky for a block, Sullivan went solo on the next play to put the Aggies up, 11-7. The freshman then posted her third consecutive block, teaming with Kastmo. Georgia, trying to avoid Sullivan’s dominating block, hit long on the ensuing play to give A&M a 13-7 lead.
Georgia’s next attack hit off the high hands of the A&M block for a kill to end the rally. The Bulldogs then blocked an A&M attack to get within 13-9 before Mellinger got a kill off the block to put the Aggies at match point. Georgia, which was outhit .300 to .091 in the frame and .240 to .216 in the match, posted a kill before Sullivan ended the match with her career-high eighth kill of the match.
Kastmo led all players with 16 kills. Mellinger had a double-double with 13 kills and 11 digs, which put her in solo possession of third place in the A&M records with 1,414 career digs.
Sawatzky also finished with a double-double, posting 49 assists and a career-high and team-high 20 digs. Pendergast also reached double figures in digs with 15.
Miller posted a season-high and match-high seven blocks to lead A&M to a 13-10 advantage in blocks.
The Bulldogs had four players reach double figures in kills, including Briana Bahr’s team-high 13. Libero Allison Summers led all players with 21 digs for Georgia, which falls to 13-13 overall and 7-9 in the SEC.
The Aggies return to Reed Arena on Friday for their final home match of the regular season, playing host to former Big 12 Conference foe Missouri. First serve against the Tigers is slated for 6:30 p.m. at Reed. A&M’s five seniors – Alisia Kastmo, Tori Mellinger, Lindsey Miller, Stephanie Minnerly and Megan Pendergast – will be honored following the match.
Texas A&M Post-Match Quotes
Coach Laurie Corbelli
(On coming back after being down 2-0 in the match)
We are really thrilled that we were able to come back after being down two sets. It’s the first time this season that we have been challenged in that way against an opponent that just couldn’t miss. They were playing great defense. They had us scouted beautifully. They were attacking so aggressively, and we really struggled those first two sets just getting into our rhythm and figuring out how to stop them. So after that break, maybe now I can say that those are the kind of matches where I love the break. I usually hate the break, but during the 10 minutes we got a chance to regroup and think about the things we really needed to change. I was really proud of the way the team came back and had another really gutsy performance on the road. All weekend we talked about playing really gutsy, and we had to do that to win this one. It took a lot more players than we usually use, and everybody that came in did a wonderful job. So it was really fun that it was a complete team performance.
Our serving was not very aggressive at all in the first two sets, and as we got more comfortable with our serving and became more aggressive and not afraid of missing, that really helped our entire game.
(On the clutch play from players off the bench)
The players that came off the bench really turned it around for us. They’ve been chomping at the bit to get on the court and they have been doing some wonderful things in practice. The opportunity came one-by-one to get them out there and let them do their thing. We have been seeing it more and more often in practice with (Ashley) Vrana and (Shelby) Sullivan, who is just steady and does some really nice things. (Kelsey) Kinley has been playing quite a bit this season but not as much lately, and we have been wondering about a new way of using her as the team has evolved throughout the season. To get Kinley out there and get her passing, they went right at her and she did a beautiful job.
(On what was said during the break)
We could see from the numbers but also from the looks of things, our outsides were struggling. They had scouted them well. They were just slowing them down and stopping them and it started to frustrate our outsides. Plus they made them block a lot because they set their right-side attack over and over and they beat the block and so it carries over into the attack. We just gave each other confidence. We gave the left sides the freedom to just go up and swing and we were going to cover them even better. Mostly the resolve it would take to come back and win in five, and did we have it, and it was a chance for us to prove to ourselves what we do have inside, and there is a reason that we are in this position, so let’s learn something new about ourselves. I kind of challenged them in a sly way to make sure they reached down pretty deep and figured out what they needed to change. We weren’t playing very smart volleyball either on top of not playing very aggressively in the first two sets. We weren’t smart and weren’t able to adjust like we typically do in terms of our hitting. Our blocking started to come but not great. So all of those things we brought up, and they recognized them. Just having a lot of the senior leadership on the court, they have been through that scenario before where they needed to make changes. They can make them because they’ve been there, and that helps a lot.
(On final home match)
Senior Night this year is really going to be a tough one. All five of them have contributed just incredible amounts to our program and especially this year. They have gotten us to 21 wins already and hopefully lots more, so I’m forever grateful to this group. They’ve been a joy to coach, and they are also a lot of fun to watch. So our usual rivalry with Missouri that we have had throughout the Big 12 years, it’s going to be in full force on Friday night. They know our number and we know theirs. It’s always just a great battle and lots of awesome defensive plays with players flying across the floor to save balls, and a lot of great attackers to watch. So we are hoping the 12th Man and all of the volleyball fans in the community will come out and really support especially these seniors but also Aggie Volleyball as we finish our home schedule and try to get the best seeding we can in the NCAA tournament.