LEXINGTON, Ky. Texas A&M’s five-match win streak came to an end tonight as No. 16 Kentucky won all three sets by the minimum two points in a 26-24, 25-23, 26-24 Wildcat victory at Memorial Coliseum.
Texas A&M drops to 16-11 overall, including 8-8 in Southeastern Conference matches. It was the fifth consecutive win for Kentucky, which improves to 21-6 overall and 13-3 in SEC matches.
There were 18 ties and 12 lead changes in the back-and-forth opening set in which both teams struggled to get into an offensive rhythm and neither team built more than a three-point lead. Kentucky, which outhit A&M, .075 to .048, got a kill from senior All-American Whitney Billings and a stuff block to take a 21-20 lead. A&M tied the score following a timeout as Billings hit into the net, but the Wildcats kept the lead after Alexandra Morgan tipped the ball in for a kill. Kentucky hit wide on the next play, tying the score at 22, and Shelby Sullivan and Sierra Patrick returned the lead to the Aggies with a stuff block before Kentucky called its final timeout.
Morgan tooled the A&M block to even the score, 23-23, and Kentucky retook the lead and was serving for the set after A&M setter Allie Sawatzky was unable to gain control of a sloppy pass. Following A&M’s final timeout, Aggie freshman Emily Hardesty attacked a ball that skimmed the back line, tying the score at 24-all. Morgan then got a kill as A&M was whistled for a touch, and Lauren O’Conner followed with a tip kill to close out the set for the Wildcats.
In the second set, Patrick got a kill and then teamed with Babers for a block to begin a 4-0 run that gave the Aggies an 11-8 lead. Kentucky came back and tied the score four times before an A&M attack error gave the Wildcats an 18-17 advantage. Kentucky followed with a kill before a service error and a Sullivan kill evened the score at 19-19. Kentucky then got a kill off the A&M block before Patrick got a kill through the block and Sawatzky followed with a kill to the back corner to put A&M back in the lead, 21-20.
The score was later tied at 22-22 when Sullivan gave the Aggies a 23-22 lead following a successful slide attack. It would be the final point for A&M, however, as Lauren O’Conner tipped in a kill to tie the score and Billings followed with a kill from the back row to put the Wildcats at set point. A&M was then unable to corral O’Conner’s next attack, and Kentucky, which outhit A&M .261 to .243 in the frame, won the set 25-23 to take a 2-0 lead in the match.
There were nine ties and four lead changes in the third set with the Wildcats outhitting A&M .200 to .191. Kentucky, which had twice led by a match-high four points in the third set, held a 19-16 advantage when A&M used a 5-0 surge to take a 21-19 lead. O’Conner got a kill following a Kentucky timeout, but Sullivan powered a kill through the block and a Wildcat attack error put A&M ahead, 23-20. Two Billings kills sandwiched a Kentucky ace, knotting the score at 23-23. Babers’ soft-touch kill put A&M at set point, 24-23, but Kentucky answered with back-to-back kills to take a 25-24 lead. Kentucky, which leads the SEC in blocks in conference matches, then closed out the match with its 15th block of the match.
Patrick led A&M with 10 kills and 12 points. Heather Reynolds had a match-high 18 digs, the most digs by an A&M player in a three-set match this season and equaling her season high. Sawatzky added 15 digs and also recorded 26 assists to tally her league-leading 18th double-double of the year. Victoria Arenas also reached double figures in digs with 10.
Babers took team-high honors in blocks with five, and Sullivan, who had eight kills while hitting at a .412 clip, had two aces to finish with 11.5 points.
Kentucky, which outhit A&M .171 to .161 for the match, was led by Billings’ 15 kills. Morgan, last week’s SEC Defensive Player of the Weed, added 10 kills and led all players with eight blocks.
Texas A&M concludes the road portion of its regular-season schedule on Sunday as the Aggies take on Georgia Sunday in Athens, Ga. First serve against the Bulldogs is at 1:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m. CT) at the Ramsey Center in Athens, Ga.
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.