LEXINGTON, Ky. – Texas A&M saw its five-match win streak snapped as the Aggies fell to Kentucky, 25-11, 25-22, 25-19, Sunday afternoon at Memorial Coliseum.
“It was definitely an off day for us,” A&M coach Laurie Corbelli said. “I had a little sense of it earlier in the morning that it was tough coming down from the high of the Arkansas win and then traveling and then getting back into it again. I just sensed something was a little off, yet I knew the team would fight to get into rhythm, and they did. It was just an off day for us where everything we tried didn’t work, and sometimes that happens. It happens to every team at some point.”
Kentucky (12-7, 6-3 SEC) scored the first three points of the first set, setting the tone for the remainder of the stanza. A&M was unable to get in sync as the Wildcats went on to outhit the Aggies, .419 to .000 and held A&M to a season-low 11 points.
The second set was more tightly contested with 11 ties and five lead changes. A&M took a 6-4 lead, with Kentucky errors accounting for five of the Aggies’ first six points. The Wildcats would get back on track and later posted three consecutive kills to take a 9-7 lead.
The Wildcats widen the gap to 11-8, but the Maroon and White began to chip away at the deficit and eventually tied the score at 17-17 as Alisia Kastmo’s back-row attack caromed off the Kentucky block for a kill. Stephanie Minnerly followed with a kill on the ensuing play to return the lead to the Aggies.
The A&M lead was short-live, however, as Kentucky scored three of the next four points to regain the lead, 20-19. Kastmo tied the score for the final time with one of her five kills in the set, but A&M was unable to retake the lead as Kentucky scored the next two points. A&M stayed within a point at 23-22 following a kill by setter Allie Sawatzky, but the Wildcats registered a kill and A&M then hit long to end the set.
Kentucky never trailed in the third and final set and held a narrow 8-7 advantage before scoring four unanswered points to pull away. The Aggies got back within three points at 19-16 following a tip kill by Tori Mellinger and a bad set by Kentucky, but the Wildcats rallied for three consecutive points to go up, 22-16, equaling their largest lead of the set.
The teams exchanged sideouts for the remainder of the frame, with Alexandra Morgan putting down a kill on the slide attack to clinch the victory for the Wildcats.
Kastmo had nine kills to lead the Aggies, who suffered their first sweep of the season and fall to 15-3 overall and 7-2 in the SEC. Sawatzky finished with seven kills and 22 assists, and libero Megan Pendergast led A&M in digs with 13.
Fourteen players overall saw action for the Aggies as Corbelli continuously attempted to find a winning combination. Junior outside hitter Ashley Vrana provided the biggest spark, coming off the bench midway through the second set and posting three kills with no errors in six attempts and also registering her first career solo block.
Lauren O’Connor had a match-high 12 kills for the Wildcats. Whitney Billings had 11 kills while hitting .435 and also added a match-high 14 digs, while Morgan finished with eight kills without an error for a.444 hitting efficiency. She led in blocks with five as Kentucky outblocked A&M 10.5 to 7.0 and outhit the Aggies, .351 to .105, a season-high hitting percentage by an A&M opponent and a season-low hitting efficiency by the Aggies.
The Aggies, who are in the midst of their most challenging four-match stretch of the season, return to Reed Arena next weekend for matches against the two top teams in the league. On Friday at 6 p.m., A&M plays host to preseason favorite Tennessee. In conjunction with the Aggies CAN annual food drive, anyone who brings a can of food to donate will be admitted free. In addition, there will be an autograph session following the match.
On Sunday, A&M takes on league leader and 11th-ranked Florida in a match that will be nationally televised live on ESPNU. First serve against the Gators, who are 9-0 in SEC matches, is slated for 1 p.m.
“This is definitely a brutal time to have this part of the schedule,” Corbelli said. “It’s kind of the middle of the season, you don’t see the end in sight and you know it’s been a real grind. This is when we mentally have to grind it out and be really tough and focused. It’s more about that rather than volleyball itself, so we are going to have to make sure we handle it properly.”