COLLEGE STATION, Texas. – Texas A&M retained first place in the Southeastern Conference Western Division with a dominating 25-8, 25-14, 25-10 win over a young Mississippi State squad Sunday afternoon at Reed Arena in a match that was televised by Sport South.
It was the fourth consecutive victory for the Aggies, who improved to 6-1 in the SEC and 14-2 overall to become only the fourth team in A&M history to have only two losses after 16 matches. The Aggies obliterated a school record for fewest points scored by an opponent since moving to the 25-point cap in 2008, as Mississippi State’s 32 total points smashes the previous record of 41 (25-7, 25-16, 25-18) points scored by Texas Southern on Sept. 11, 2009.
Mississippi State falls to 4-12 overall and 0-7 in the SEC following the first-ever meeting between the two schools in volleyball.
A&M never trailed in the entire contest as the aggressive Aggies took care of business. Fifteen players saw action for the Aggies. Only two players had two attack errors and the remainder of the A&M players had less as A&M outhit the Bulldogs .356 to -.047, a season-low by an A&M opponent.
A&M opened the match by jumping out to a 10-2 lead in the first set, and the Aggies continued to reel off consecutive points throughout the set. Senior middle blocker Lindsey Miller, who had five kills in the set, posted back-to-back kills and then combined with junior setter Allie Sawatzky for a block to close out a 3-0 run that clinched the 25-8 win.
A&M freshman outside hitter Shelbi Vaughan came off the bench early in the second set and blasted three kills during a 5-0 run in which the Aggies broke away from a 3-3 tie. The Bulldogs got within four points four times, the last coming at 14-10, before the Aggies once again began scoring consecutive points. A&M was ahead, 21-14, when it mounted a 4-0 run, which included three blocks by Miller, to complete the set and give the Aggies a 2-0 lead in the match.
With the majority of A&M starters on the bench for the final set, junior Mariah Agre took over setting duties, and with the help of reserve freshmen Sierra Patrick and Shelby Sullivan as well as junior outside hitter Ashley Vrana, junior libero Kelsey Kinley and usual senior starters Tori Mellinger and Stephanie Minnerly, A&M mounted a marathon 13-point run to take a commanding 14-1 lead. A&M would later use a five-point run, which included two kills and an ace by Vaughan, to go up 24-8. A&M committed a service error on the next play, but the Bulldogs then served long to end the match.
Mellinger led A&M with seven kills and 15 digs. Sawatzky, Alisia Kastmo and Miller all pitched in six kills, as did Vaughan, marking her career-high. Miller and Sullivan led in blocks with four apiece as A&M tallied a season-high 17 block assists.
Lainey Wyman led the Bulldogs with five kills, and setter Taylor Hackemack and libero Roxanne McVey, who entered the match as the SEC leader in digs per set, had 11 and 10 digs, respectively.
A&M hits the road next weekend for a crucial pair of SEC matches. The Aggies take on Arkansas, which is one win behind A&M in the SEC Western Division, Friday at 7 p.m. in Fayetteville and then heads to Lexington, Ky., for a rematch against the Kentucky Wildcats, who held off A&M, 3-2, earlier this season at Reed. It will be A&M’s first-ever meeting against the Razorbacks, who didn’t sponsor volleyball when the two teams were members of the Southwest Conference.
A&M Post-Match Quotes:
Head Laurie Corbelli:
(On playing younger players)
We knew Mississippi State was a young team and was struggling of late. I had some opportunities to play some players that don’t get on the floor much. They all work hard in practice every day. It’s good because I get to evaluate them in competition. We always tell the girls that it’s different than practice. There are different distractions and different expectations. It is very rewarding for them to get on the court when they can. They deserve it. There’s no need to leave the more experienced players out on the court when the other team is obviously struggling with their youth and being in a big facility like this. Honestly, I think the upperclassmen loved the break. I’m afraid if I had needed them again, I don’t know if I would have had them. I think they enjoyed sitting out and getting to support their young teammates. The senior class has been incredibly great role models for the younger girls. To have so many freshmen, I couldn’t ask for a better group of older players that could help us perpetuate the things we are trying to do in our program.
(On her evaluation of the younger players’ performances)
I looked out there during set three and saw two seniors, two juniors, a sophomore and a freshman, so we still weren’t that young. I didn’t put all the freshmen out at once. I could have done that, but I like to keep some experience on the floor mixing it in with the young ones. There are some juniors out there that are really experienced players. Mariah Agre is a really good setter. She’s used to starting, so I’m really glad I got a chance to put her on the floor full-time, and she did a beautiful job. Ashley Vrana was a starter all spring on the outside. She’s had a knee injury for most of the season and is now recovering from it. She’s incredibly capable offensively, and I thought she did a great job. Those are two juniors that I will have back next year, and they are first and second off the bench in our toughest matches.
(On Shelbi Vaughn)
I wouldn’t want to be on the other end of the ball against her. The ball just comes off her hand incredibly fast. It’s really deceptive. It doesn’t look like she is swinging that hard, but the ball just comes off her hand fast. It’s really tough to deal with. If you can hit hard but you can’t hit high and around small blocks and use smarts, then it doesn’t matter how hard you hit. That’s where we’re working with her. When she gets her timing down consistently and when she gets the range of the court she can attack, she’s capable of becoming an All-American. In fact, I think quite a few of my freshmen have that potential, which is really exciting.
In our practices, we have everybody play everything. It’s kind of the old style of volleyball where attackers learn how to play defense as well. I think it helps them in their overall game. We have a pretty disciplined system on defense. We train so often that when they got out there and knew their responsibilities that it made it clearer for each of them. Patrick can play right back, middle back and left back in practice every day. When she goes in and subs for Kastmo, she’s ready to go anywhere. I think it’s a reflection of their work in practice. They also came in with a lot of defensive ability. These players came from very great clubs. They were incredible defensive players when they came. I think they understand the system, they are disciplined kids and they want to do well and please.
(On Sierra Patrick)
Sierra is just an overall great athlete and volleyball player. She has ball control. She has power. She has great timing with her attack and her block. She led a team to a national championship when she was just 17 years old. If anyone in our non-starting group is ready to get on the court, it’s Sierra. She’s got confidence and an ease about her game that she can project to her teammates. I love coaching her. She’s been nothing but a joy, and I know her teammates feel the same way. I have full confidence and trust that she can come on to the court and do a great job, no matter where she is placed.