COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Texas A&M extended its SEC Western Division lead with a 23-25, 25-19, 25-18, 25-17 win over second-place Arkansas Sunday afternoon at Reed Arena.
It was the fourth consecutive victory for the Aggies, who improve to 19-5 overall and 11-4 in the SEC to take a two-game lead over the Razorbacks (18-8, 9-6 SEC) in the West.
Senior opposite Alisia Kastmo had 15 kills to lead a contingent of four Aggie players with double-figure kills. Senior middle blocker Lindsey Miller and freshman outside hitter Sierra Patrick added 12 kills apiece -- a career-high for Patrick -- and senior outside hitter Tori Mellinger contributed 10 kills as A&M led Arkansas in kills, 64-51, and also outhit the Razorbacks, .265 to .162.
A&M also had four players with double-figure digs, including senior libero Megan Pendergast, who had a career-high 32 digs, the most by an A&M player since 2010. Junior setter Allie Sawatzky tied her career high with 15 digs while also dishing out 46 assists and posting eight kills, and Kastmo and Mellinger had 14 and 13 digs, respectively, to register double doubles.
The first set was nip-and-tuck from start to finish with 17 ties, three lead changes and nearly identical statistics. A&M opened by scoring the first three points, but that would be its biggest lead as the Razorbacks countered with three points to even the set. The Aggies later held a 10-9 lead when Arkansas used a 4-0 run to take its first lead of the frame. A kill by Kastmo ended the rally, and Arkansas hit long on the next play to put A&M within 13-12. Sawatzky, like she did several times throughout the match, pushed the ball over to a wide-open back corner for a kill to tie the score. The teams then traded sideouts until Mellinger put down an Arkansas overpass to return the lead to A&M, 18-17.
The Aggies held a narrow 21-20 lead when Arkansas posted back-to-back kills and also got an ace following a serve that hit the top of the net and narrowly rolled over and fell on the Aggies’ side, putting the Razorbacks up 23-21. Patrick got a kill through the block, and an Arkansas attack sailed long to tie the score for the final time.
On the next play, Sawatzky was whistled for attacking a ball that had been set by the libero in front of the 10-foot, putting the Razorbacks at set point. Roslandy Acosta then closed out the set for the Razorbacks by tooling the A&M block for a kill.
Arkansas had built a 3-1 lead in the second set when a block by senior middle blocker Stephanie Minnerly and Kastmo marked the start of a 4-0 run that put the Aggies ahead, 5-3. The Razorbacks managed to tie the score at 5-5, but it would be the last tie of the set as Miller and Sawatzky’s play at the net led the Aggies on a 5-0 run for a 10-5 lead. A&M later used a 6-1 rally to double up the Razorbacks once again, 18-9. Arkansas got within 23-19 after outscoring the Aggies, 4-1, but the Razorbacks then hit long to put A&M at set point. Mellinger then closed out the set with a kill to even the match at a set apiece.
A&M never trailed in the third set and the only tie was at 2-2. Patrick broke the tie with one of her four kills in the set, sparking a 4-0 run by the Aggies. A&M twice built a seven-point lead, the last coming at 17-10 before Arkansas rallied to get within 19-16. An attack error and a blocking error ended the Razorbacks’ run, but Jasmine Norton would put down her seventh kill of the set to keep the Hogs within 21-17. An errant pass by the Razorbacks set up Minnerly for the kill, and Mellinger put A&M up 23-17 with another kill following a long rally that included diving saves by both teams. Sawatzky then got a kill with another one of her strategically placed attacks to the open back corner, putting A&M at set point. Arkansas stayed alive with a block on the ensuing play but then served long to give the Aggies the 25-18 win and a 2-1 lead in the match.
The Aggies, who defeated the Razorbacks, 3-2, in the first-ever meeting between the two teams earlier this season in Fayetteville, jumped out to a 5-0 advantage in the fourth set but didn’t take command until, with the score tied at 12-12, A&M outscored the Razorbacks 9-1 to build a 21-13 lead. Arkansas, which was outhit, .333 to .119 in the frame, managed to twice get within five points and was trailing 22-17 when Kastmo got a kill and junior Heather Reynolds registered an ace to put A&M at match point. Miller then capped the victory, executing the slide to perfection and pounding a kill down the line for the winner.
Norton led the Razorbacks with 18 kills and 21 digs in the match.
The Aggies hit the road next weekend, playing at Auburn Friday at 7 p.m. and then facing Georgia for the first time as SEC foes on Sunday in Athens. The match against the Bulldogs begins at 1 p.m. (CT) and will be televised by Comcast/Cox.
Texas A&M Post-Match Quotes
Coach Laurie Corbelli
(On her intensity during the game)
To be perfectly honest, sometimes you go with your gut that the team needs a little bit more from you or something different than normal. I sensed that they needed my louder voice. They were a little flat emotionally and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I knew I needed to do something to spark a little feistiness in them. At that point, you start doing whatever you feel like has worked in the past. I felt like I had to be a lot more animated.
(On team’s performance)
I see them run down balls in practice a lot, so I know how fast Megan (Pendergast) is and how fast they all can be. I never questioned their effort; I just questioned their belief. I know they are a very determined group and they work their butts off all the time. I have to challenge them sometimes to help them bring out the best in their game. Sometimes that means I have to be really amped up. They are phenomenal players. We could be at the top of the league in defense and digs. I think we have been for most of the season. A great block makes things easier. I think it’s a blast. I think when we get to run balls down and get tips up, they are momentum changers for the game. It changes in your favor, and that’s why we are really big on groveling on defense.
(On Sierra Patrick)
She’s been playing most of the season on the right side in practice. When we decided to do a “merry-go-round” on the left side to see who was going to consistently be able to play that position, she came forward. I know she understands the game. She’s got the complete package with passing and defense and blocking. She just plays with a really calm presence and brings a really even temperament to the court and I think that’s good for the older players. I just think that right now, the consistency that Sierra brings is really nice. My impression was that she went in today really carefree. She’s a freshman, she has no expectations. She just trusts in her ability. I know that when Allie (Sawatzky) sets her, she knows that Sierra is going to go up hard. I think they have a good connection. I’ve been seeing it more in practice. I think once Sierra gets her first kill, it’s clear in her mind that she can do the job. It’s very nice for a setter to know that she has a good connection with an outside hitter.
Senior Libero Megan Pendergast
(On team attitude during the game)
This whole season our focus has been playing for each other and investing in each other’s success. I think we started out a little flat today, and we just overemphasized that part of our game. We played for each other and didn’t focus on what happened the last set or the last point. We were just (focused on) winning the next point and playing for each other. It's fun to play good volleyball.
(On chasing down balls)
I’m just doing everything I can do to keep the ball off the ground. I know that if I put the ball in a good spot where my team can run the offense, they are going to put it away. It’s really easy to dig balls when you’ve got a solid block up there and you know everyone around you is in the right spot. I can honestly say I played good defense today because of everyone around me who made it really easy to do what I needed to do.
(On the long rallies)
Arkansas played great defense today and they kept the ball off of the floor. I felt like we had really long rallies today. Sometimes you can’t just pass the ball and get a really great swing. Sometimes you have to do it two or three times. It’s about character. You get a dig and remember that it’s not a big deal. You are still transitioning, and our hitters do a great job of that always.
(On junior defensive specialist Kelsey Kinley)
Kelsey Kinley is an amazing DS and libero. You can put her in at any time and she’s going to do a good job. I work hard all practice long because I know how good Kelsey is. She helps me a lot on the sideline, as well as Hannah (Hood) and Kate (Praslicka). Kelsey’s amazing. She does a good job. She’s consistent and doesn’t make many mistakes.
(On the win)
It was a really good win today. We got better as a team. We are just going to keep focusing on that. It’s only the beginning of November. We are going to keep getting better every day. Come the end of the season, the other teams aren’t going to want to see us on their side of the bracket because we are going to be a thorn in the sides of some of those big teams.
Senior Middle Blocker Lindsey Miller
(On rallying during low times)
I think the best part about our team is that even in situations like that, we never freak out. We are really good at remaining calm in situations like that. We knew what we had to do and we knew it would happen. Patience is big for us. Not every rally is going to present an immediate opportunity to score, but we all trust each other to make the play and know that the next time we will get the chance to swing or make a block. If it’s not the perfect opportunity right then, the next time it will be. I think that’s something that we really have: patience instead of being too high-energy or too uptight when we are down like that. We can remain calm, and it’s not so much the urgency but the patience that really helps us in those situations.
(On positive attitude during the game)
It’s just having the trust in the defense behind me. If I put up the best block possible, they will make the best dig possible. Whatever touches I get on the block makes it easier for the defense to get a great dig. The smile I get on my face is from them not being able to put the ball away. They don’t have a chance. Just getting all those touches or blocks in one rally makes me excited.
(On getting the final kill)
All game long, they were telling me to hit the line. I guess it clicked by the final point. It’s always exciting to know the setter trusts me with that final point. I could feel it. I knew it was coming. I knew that this set was our set. It’s just a good feeling knowing that Allie trusts me to get that last point for the team.
REMINDER: Reservations must be made by Tuesday, Nov. 6 for the season’s final “Lunch with Laurie” on Tuesday, Nov. 13. RSPV by contacting Kelly Stumph at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The luncheon will be noon-1 p.m. in the volleyball practice gym at Reed Arena and will include a meal, video highlights and commentary from Corbelli as well as players depending on class schedules. In addition, those purchasing a lunch ticket will automatically be entered to win a Texas A&M volleyball jersey autographed by the team. The drawing will be held at the conclusion of the luncheon.
Free parking is available in lot 100g at Reed, and fans should enter Reed through the main entrance facing Olsen Blvd. and follow signs to the practice gym.
Cost is $10 per person at the door (cash or check only).
For more information, please contact Kelly Stumph at email@example.com or 979-862-3925.