ATHENS, Ga. – Texas A&M sophomore Angela Lowak paced the Aggie offense with a career-high 23 kills and senior libero Heather Reynolds spearheaded the team’s defense with a career-high 35 digs to lead A&M to a crucial 25-22, 21-25, 25-19, 20-25, 15-9 victory against Georgia today at the Ramsey Center.
It was the final road match of the regular season for the Aggies, who have won six of their last seven matches to improve to 17-11 overall, including 9-8 in Southeastern Conference matches. Georgia, which entered the contest riding a three-match win streak, falls to 20-9 overall and 10-7 in SEC play.
A&M had a clutch come-from-behind performance in the opening set, overcoming a six-point deficit to get the win. Georgia had used a 9-2 run to build a 15-9 lead and maintained its six-point cushion at 19-13 before A&M began to rally. Aggie freshman Emily Hardesty got a kill down the line and sophomore Sierra Patrick put down a Georgia overpass for a kill, and the momentum began to shift. After a Bulldog kill, Georgia then committed four consecutive attack errors, one the result of a Hardesty and Shelby Sullivan block, putting A&M within 20-19. Georgia then got a kill out of the back row, but A&M senior setter Allie Sawatzky dumped the ball over for a kill and won a joust at the net on the ensuing plays to tie the score, 21-21. Sullivan gave the Aggies a lead with her signature slide kill, and Sawatzky followed with a clutch out-of-system kill that put A&M up, 23-21. Georgia got a kill to get within 23-22 before Lowak pounded down a sharp cross-court kill, putting A&M at set point. Georgia, which was outhit, .300 to .200 in the frame, then committed an attack error to close out the set.
A&M’s comeback bid in the second set would fall short, and Georgia evened the match, 1-1. Trailing 13-9, the Aggies rallied as Lowak’s off-speed shot found the floor and redshirt freshman middle blocker Jazzmin Babers anchored four consecutive blocks, giving A&M a 14-13 lead. Georgia called a timeout to regroup and then tied the score with a kill. Babers countered with a kill before the Bulldogs scored eight unanswered points – including consecutive aces by Elle McCord -- to take a 22-15 lead. A&M later used a 5-0 spurt to get within 23-21 before Georgia’s Chloe Buckendahl closed out the frame with back-to-back kills.
A&M had trailed by as many as three points in the third set before an ace by Sullivan gave the Aggies their first lead at 11-10. Georgia hung tight, and after trailing by as many as three points, the Bulldogs used back-to-back-kills to get within 20-19. Georgia, however, was unable to tie the score, serving long on the next play. Lowak followed with a hard shot to the deep opposite corner for her seventh kill of the set to put A&M up 23-19. Georgia then sent a free ball into the net to put the Aggies at set point and followed with an attack into the net as A&M closed out the stanza on a 5-0 run.
A&M tied the score five times early in the fourth set but was unable to ever hold a lead. The score was tied for the final time at 8-8 when the Bulldogs outscored the Aggies 6-1 to jump out to a 14-9 lead. A&M managed to get within 19-18 following a block by Babers and senior outside hitter Ashely Vrana, but the Bulldogs pulled away once again, getting four kills and a solo block during a 5-1 surge that put Georgia at set point, 24-19. A&M stayed alive as Georgia’s serve sailed long, but the Bulldogs came right back with a kill to win the set and force a decisive fifth set.
A&M, which entered the match 0-3 in five-set matches this season, was down 6-5 when Sullivan knotted the score with a kill on the slide attack. Georgia hit long on the next play, giving A&M a 7-6 lead. Georgia immediately tied the score due to an A&M serve error, but Sullivan returned the lead to A&M, running the slide and getting a kill down the line. Lowak then caromed the ball off the Georgia block for a point and followed with a booming kill courtesy of a Georgia overpass to put the Aggies up 10-7. Sawatzky also got in the action with a kill before Georgia got a kill to get within 11-8. Lowak countered with back-to-back kills, giving the Aggies a 13-8 lead. Georgia, which was outhit .480 to .160 in the final frame, got a kill before Babers put A&M at match point with a kill on the slide attack. Lowak then posted her sixth kill of the set with another shot to the deep corner to close out the victory.
Lowak hit .351 for the match, and both her 23 kills and career-high 23 points are the most by an A&M player this season. Sawatzky and Sullivan also finished with double-digit kills with 13 and 10, respectively, and A&M outhit the Bulldogs, .236 to .207, for the match. Sawatzky, who hit .406 for the match, accounted for 44 assists to complete her league-leading 19th double-double of the season.
Reynolds’ 35 digs is the most by an A&M player since rally scoring began in 2001 and ties for the fourth most digs in a match in school history. Senior Mariah Agre also had a career-high in digs with 19, and senior Kelsey Kinley added 11 digs.
Babers finished with nine kills and 14 points and led all players with nine blocks as A&M outblocked the Bulldogs, 12-8.
Georgia had four players with double-figure kills, including a team-high 17 by both Buckendahl and Brittany Northcutt, to lead the Bulldogs to a 68-64 advantage in total kills. Georgia also led in aces, 3-2, and the teams tied in digs with 84 each.
Texas A&M concludes the regular season with a home match against South Carolina, Wednesday, Nov. 27 at 4 p.m. at Reed Arena. It will be “Senior Day,” and A&M seniors Mariah Agre, Kelsey Kinley, Heather Reynolds, Allie Sawatzky and Ashley Vrana will be honored following the match. It also will be “12th Man Appreciation Day” and all A&M students will be admitted free.
Visit AggieAthletics.com for more information on Texas A&M volleyball. Aggie fans also can keep up to date with the A&M volleyball team on Facebook and on Twitter by following @AggieVolleyball.
Texas A&M Quotes:
Head Coach Laurie Corbelli:
(On the importance of the victory)
“In our opinion, this was a must-win match. It is not easy to play on the road in the SEC, much less against a team that already has 20 wins on the season and against a very veteran team – I think they return everybody from last season. This could have been a very stressful situation, and I was really proud of how the team really made an extra effort to stay relaxed, intense and focused. It took a lot of senior leadership, which I noticed the entire afternoon. They were vocal. They were passionate and they were intense, and they definitely led today. It was so fun to see them really step up as a group.”
(On Angela Lowak’s performance)
“She was flying. She was unstoppable, and I just love that after a performance that she wasn’t happy with two nights ago, she didn’t let it get to her at all. That is so mature of her, and that experience is going to help her get better and better. She has a variety of shots that she has really been working on in practice. Practice is really showing up in her game.”
(On Heather Reynolds’ defensive performance)
“She was one of the seniors that I thought really stepped up today. It was so consistent in her effort. It was consistent in her reading the hitters and the job that she was asked to do. She didn’t let up. She did not take a play off, and she was great with her leadership today. And I thought Sawatzky was great with her leadership as well. Almost every decision on our court, she is in charge of it. They knew we needed to win that match, and it is a really tough situation to be in. I’m really happy that she is a senior and is on our court a lot, because we really needed that kind of experience in this type of situation.
“I also would give kudos to our passers and ball handlers, because we had to give Sawatzky the ball a lot to where she could attack. That is putting a lot of pressure on those guys, asking them to get it to that spot all the time. We were adamant that it happened, and they just kept relentlessly trying to get the ball to where it was supposed to go. It was a really fun match to coach. When you are really proud of the effort every play and the team doesn’t take a play off, then it is hard to not enjoy that, so I’m really thrilled.”
(On the comeback in the first set)
“That was significant, because we were down by a lot and were making a lot of errors. So when we came back, it proved to them that they could do it no matter what the circumstances. So coming back in the first set, what a joy that was. We were so excited to get that. It was a really up and down match and the team that steadied out the most won, and that was us, so it was fun.”
(On playing South Carolina to close out the regular season)
“South Carolina is a must-win match. They beat us at their place. It couldn’t be a better scenario to be at home and come back with some great volleyball against a team that played some great volleyball against us last time and prove to ourselves that we can get it done. We’ll be ready. We’ll be focused. We’ll be at our best. I know the team is in a good place right now. They feel confident. They feel like that can be down by whatever and come back, so I’m excited to see the team perform on Wednesday.”