COLLEGE STATION, Texas – The Texas A&M volleyball team makes its first appearance of the spring season Saturday as the Aggies compete in the Rice Volleyball Spring Tournament in Houston.
The Aggies are slated to play three matches in the one-day event, taking on Rice at 12 p.m., TCU at 1:30 p.m. and concluding the tournament with a contest against Sam Houston State at 2:30 p.m. All matches will be two sets to 25 points and will be played at Tudor Fieldhouse and Fox Gymnasium.
“The team can’t wait to get out there and really see where they stand and kind of get a benchmark for where we are,” said Laurie Corbelli who is entering her 22nd season as head coach of the Aggies. “When you hear the whistle blow and you have a different group of kids on the other side to compete against you, that reaction that our team has is going to be really what I’m looking for. How composed are we. How well are we executing in the face of competition. Whether it counts or not, it’s still competition, and it feels a lot different than training. I want to see the adjustments we make when we see what a hitter is trying to do to beat us, when we see what a server is doing and how well we adjust. How is our memory of the things we have been working on and see how we are translating the things we learned in training into competition, because they learned a ton of new things this spring.”
Corbelli returns 11 letterwinners -- including five starters -- from last year’s team that went 19-12 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Despite the large number of returners, Corbelli needs to fill several key roles following the graduation of four-year starting setter Allie Sawatzky and back row specialists Heather Reynolds, Kelsey Kinley and Mariah Agre.
Sophomore-to-be Kaysie Shebeneck and freshman Stephanie Aiple, who graduated high school in December and enrolled at A&M in January are training at the setter position and provide a variety of options for Corbelli.
“We have two awesome setters, and as much as we miss Sawatzky, we have a totally new look with these two. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses. It gives us opportunities to run 6-2s, we can run 4-2s, 5-1s, and they are both attackers, too. They both can hit really, really well.
“More than replacing anything else is replacing our back row. One of our biggest focuses this spring has been our serve receive, our ball control, our defense and making sure we can begin each rally with a quality touch and let our setters do their thing and let our hitters do their thing. If the pass is not going with the kind of quality that we have been having, it is really going to be hard to really maximize the incredible physical talent we have at the net. The loss of Reynolds, Kinley and Agre, those three were really important in our back row with their experience and ball handling.”
Junior-to-be Shelby Sullivan, an All-SEC selection last year, and SEC All-Freshman Team member Jazzmin Babers return in the middle, with sophomore-to-be Darby Graff training at both the middle and right side positions. Angela Lowak and Emily Hardesty return on the outside, and defensive specialists Hannah Hood, Victoria Arenas and Katelyn Labhart are focusing on the back row.
“We have so many players competing really hard every day,” Corbelli said. “I don’t know that we’ve had a spring that has been this competitive. And it’s day-in and day-out, so it’s been really fun to be a part of.”
Two-sport athletes Shelbi Vaughan and Sierra Patrick are currently competing with the Texas A&M track and field team and will not make the trip to Houston.
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.