AUSTIN, TX -- Texas A&M pushed the nation's No. 3 team to four sets with a gritty effort, but the Aggies fell to Texas, 25-16, 19-25, 25-19, 25-18, Friday night before a rowdy crowd of 3,419 at Gregory Gym in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Aggies, who entered the match riding a season-high 10-match win streak, finish the season 25-6. Texas improves to 25-4 and advances to the regional semifinal next weekend in Austin.
Texas took control of the opening set as Bailey Webster had four kills and a block during an 8-0 run that put the Longhorns up, 19-10. A&M later went on a 4-1 run that put the Aggies within 23-16, but a service error and an attack error closed out the 25-16 win for the Longhorns, who outhit A&M .353 to .167.
It was the Aggies who controlled the second set. A&M, held without an ace in the first set, had four aces in the second, including three early in the frame to spark a 6-1 lead and force a Texas timeout. The Aggies, who outhit the Horns, .387 to .320, later used a 3-0 run, getting a tip kill by Alisia Kastmo, a kill by Austin native Sierra Patrick and a block by Patrick and Stephanie Minnerly to build their largest lead at 17-9. Texas countered with a 3-0 run, but could get no closer. A Texas service error put A&M ahead, 23-18, and the teams exchanged points for the remainder of the frame with Patrick putting down her fourth kill of the set to close out the 25-19 victory and tie the match at 1-1.
There were five lead changes and nine ties in the third set before Texas began to pull away. A kill by Patrick tied the score at 14-14 before Texas began scoring two points to every one point by the Aggies. The Longhorns, who outhit A&M, .524 to .250 in the set, took a 24-18 lead following consecutive errors by the Aggies. Kastmo fought off one set point with a tip kill, but Sha’Dare McNeal put down a kill to give the Longhorns the win and a 2-1 lead in the match.
The fourth set was tied at 7-7 when a kill by Texas’ Khat Bell and three consecutive errors by the Aggies put the Longhorns up, 11-7. Texas used a 3-0 run to widen the gap to 14-8. A&M cut the margin to four points four times, the last coming at 21-17 as Texas hit into the net. Back-to-back kills by Molly McCage put Texas up, 23-17, but McCage was whistled for a ball handling error on the next play to put A&M within 23-18. McCage then put down her third kill of the frame to put Texas at match point, and setter Hannah Allison registered her only kill of the night to clinch the victory and send the Longhorns to the next round.
Tori Mellinger led the Aggies with 13 kills while hitting .393, and Kastmo finished with 11 kills, marking the ninth consecutive match she has reached double figures in kills. Heather Reynolds led A&M in digs with nine, and Allie Sawatzky finished with 39 assists.
A&M had five aces, including two apiece by Mellinger and Sawatzky, but the Aggies committed 12 service errors, one shy of the team season high.
Webster led Texas with 17 kills and hit .556 as the Longhorns outhit A&M, .389 to .248 for the match. Texas also led in blocks, 8-4.
It marked the final collegiate match for five Aggie seniors – Kastmo, Mellinger, Lindsey Miller, Stephanie Minnerly and Megan Pendergast.
· Texas A&M’s 25 wins is the most since the Aggies went 26-6 in 2001 after advancing to the NCAA Regional Final. The road to the 2001 regional final included a 3-0 victory over Texas in the NCAA second round in College Station.
· Texas A&M finished the season 16-2 when playing away from home (11-2 at away matches and 5-0 at neutral sites)
· Texas A&M’s match tonight against Texas represented the first meeting between the Aggies and a Big 12 Conference team in any men’s or women’s sport since A&M joined the Southeastern Conference.
· Texas A&M was making its 20th overall appearance in the NCAA tournament. The Aggies are now 24-20 all-time in the tournament, including 22-16 in the 20 years with Laurie Corbelli as head coach.
· Texas A&M is 4-6 in NCAA second round matches since the tournament bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1998.
· Senior Lindsey Miller completes her career having started every match (123) over the last four years.
· This was the fifth time A&M and Texas have met in the NCAA tournament. Texas improves to 4-1 in NCAA tournament matches against the Aggies.
Texas A&M Head Coach Laurie Corbelli
Opening Statement: Obviously, we are disappointed but we are really proud of the season we had. We were on a ten game winning streak coming in. I am incredibly proud of the players. I am particularly proud of the seniors, they have done so much for this program for so many years. We just spent ten minutes making sure that each one of them got recognized and thanked for their effort.
On the change in the second set: The game started to change when serving had been sharp and confident. Serving and passing are the two fundamental parts of our game, when those things are strong and each player knows that every teammate is on board and confident, it is worth ten points almost. It is like putting the other team out of their system, although it is hard to put Texas out of their system because they set the bar so high. It is not really a system but a high set bar so even if the pass is on the net you are going against a hitter. We tried to put up pressure and defend.
On her team’s effort: I am proud of the team. Sierra Patrick, for instance, our new freshman; that position has been a rollercoaster for us all year long. We have put five different girls in that spot and for her to rise to the top at this time of year and have not such a great match last night, but we had faith in her and put her back in. I know she is a gamer, she says she is a gamer, because she definitely does not like practice. She got out there and went after it with no fear. She even spoke on the bench, which freshmen typically don’t do. In a time out with five seniors surrounding her and she was the one saying what she needed to say to them. I saw some really great things. I am proud of the team.
On Texas as a team: They are the No. 3 team for a reason; they have the power that I really haven't seen. There are some teams that have pieces of that but they [Texas] are able to put them all together.
On the message to the seniors following the game: Stephanie Minnerly who was taken out last night for the freshman Shelby Sullivan, but tonight was Minnerly’s night to go out. She has been in the program for 10 semesters. She came in early from high school to try to earn a spot, she did not earn a spot. Second season, she did not earn a spot, got beat out by a younger player. Third season, she had an injury. Fourth season, she starts the season but gets beat out and yet she is one of my hardest workers; in the weight room and the gym. She busts her tail in academics. And here she is in her senior year, I have three new studs. She has refused to give that spot up; she got an MVP award in a tournament earlier this season. When I do speeches, I will always bring her story up because I am proud and honored, she is the epitome of a student-athlete. The senior class is leaving a great legacy. The seven freshman have those five to be the example of what we are trying to do here as a program. I could not have asked for a better senior class, I shared those thoughts in the locker room.
Senior outside hitter/libero Tori Mellinger
Our team was connected on all cylinders, our block was solid which made the defense really easy to play behind and all of our hitters were going. We did make many errors, which either helped us out or not. It was team volleyball; we were playing together and having fun; that was our main goal coming into the game. It was an old rivalry which is always fun.
On the early aces in the second set: Quick turnarounds are always awesome especially after losing. We wanted to get up as quickly as possible, we got up and stayed up.
Junior outside hitter Heather Reynolds
On her number of digs: It was different but we have been working a lot with guys coming into the practice hitting the ball hard. My mind set was to be fearless and to go for it. That is the way I approached the match today.
We were definitely on a roll coming into this match, everyone on the team was confident including the bench. We came into this match not thinking but knowing we would win, that is the mindset you have to have when you are trying to advance to the NCAA tournament.
It was more of an NCAA atmosphere than a rivalry. The crowd was crazy, which is always awesome to play in front of. Seeing the banners with the NCAA logo is awesome. We approached the match not thinking about the rivalry, but thinking about advancing to the Regional.