COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Four players registered double-figure kills to lead Texas A&M to its ninth-straight win, a 25-22, 25-16, 25-27, 25-18 victory over Auburn Sunday afternoon at Reed Arena.
A&M, 2-0 in Southeastern Conference play, improves to 10-1 overall, tying the school record for best start after 11 matches. Auburn, coming off a 3-0 sweep at Mississippi State on Friday which gave the Tigers their best start in school history, falls to 10-2 overall and 1-1 in the SEC.
A&M, which entered the match having won the first set in each of its previous 10 matches, jumped out to a quick 10-3 lead in the opening set, mainly due to several unforced attack errors by the Tigers. Auburn eventually settled in, and other than the opening point of the match, got back within a point for the first time at 16-15. Auburn stayed within a point until the Aggies scored three unanswered points to go up 22-18. Auburn, which was outhit .217 to .160 in the stanza, once again chipped away at the lead and got within 23-22 but was unable to take the lead. A kill by A&M junior setter Allie Sawatzky and a sharp angle kill by senior outside hitter Tori Mellinger completed the first-set win for the Aggies, tying the team with the 2007 squad for most consecutive first-set wins at the start of a season.
The Tigers spotted A&M a 4-0 lead in the second set and were trailing 11-4 when their kill leader, Sarah Bullock, left the match with an ankle injury. With Auburn’s senior leader on the bench, A&M built its largest lead at 17-6 before the Tigers rallied to get within 21-15. It would be the closest they would get as Sawatzky deceptively set the ball over for a kill which began a three-point run for the Aggies. Auburn hit long on the ensuing play, and Aggie freshman Angela Lowak, who had come in off the bench early in the set, got a kill to put A&M at set point. Auburn got a kill, but Lowak then teamed with senior middle blocker Lindsey Miller for a block to close out the set and give the Aggies a 2-0 lead in the match.
The third set was closely contested with 13 ties and four lead changes. Auburn, which would end up outhitting the Aggies, .244 to .130 in the set, took its first lead in the entire match by scoring the first two points. The Maroon and White would take its first lead in the stanza at 7-6 as senior libero Megan Pendergast served an ace, but Auburn later regained the lead at 13-12 after an A&M attack sailed long.
A&M would later use a 3-0 run to retake the lead, 17-15, and held a 21-19 advantage when Miller’s off-speed kill began a three-point run by the Aggies. Senior opposite Alisia Kastmo followed Miller’s kill with a kill from the back row, and Mellinger had another cross-court shot that put the Aggies at match point.
A&M, which had registered sweeps in each of its last six matches, was on the verge of posting its seventh consecutive sweep, but Auburn refused to quit and fought off five match points to take a 25-24 lead after A&M hit into the net. Mellinger knotted the score at 25-all before back-to-back kills by Katherine Culwell clinched Auburn’s come-from-behind 27-25 win.
Auburn was unable to duplicate its heroic comeback in the fourth set as Miller gave A&M a lead it would not lose after opening the frame with a kill. The Aggies went on to build a 16-10 lead when Auburn rallied for four unanswered points to get within 16-14. A&M countered with a 3-0 run to go up, 19-14.
After three sideouts, Auburn committed consecutive attack errors and Aggie junior outside hitter Heather Reynolds posted an ace to put A&M ahead, 23-17. Auburn got a kill to end the streak, but Sawatzky countered with a kill to put the Aggies at match point once again. The Tigers staved off one match point but then served wide to end the match.
Sawatzky finished with 12 kills, one shy of her career high, and also had a season-high 41 assists to give her 2,605 for her career and move her into eighth place in the A&M career records. Mellinger, who played club ball with Bullock and Culwell on the Skyline Juniors team that took second at the 2008 USA Volleyball Junior National Championships, also pitched in 12 kills as well as a team-high 19 digs.
Miller and Kastmo rounded out the players with double-digit kills with 11 apiece.
Pendergast had four of A&M’s eight aces to tie her career-high, and she also contributed 17 digs. Reynolds and junior defensive specialist Kelsey Kinley also registered double-figure digs with 12 and 10, respectively.
Culwell had a match-high 20 kills to lead Auburn, which falls to 0-3 all-time against the Aggies.
A&M outhit Auburn, .208 to .175, in the match despite being outblocked 9.5 to 6.0.
The Aggies return to Reed Arena next Sunday for a rematch against 24th-ranked Kentucky. First serve against the Wildcats, who eliminated A&M in the second round of the NCAA tournament last year in College Station, is at 1 p.m.
TEXAS A&M QUOTES
Head Coach Laurie Corbelli
(On the third set loss) I thought we just got tight. Actually, I thought that we were on a run there. We had been battling that whole set. Then we just came out of nowhere and surged ahead. I think we did try to do some things we hadn’t been doing, out-of-character. Maybe quit trusting each other or trusting ourselves, that we what we have is good enough. Those are things that everyone experiences in this game, and we are really good at recognizing it and usually are able to overcome it sooner than having to go to another set. I thought the team did come back and do a great job in set four with handling losing in set three. It’s really typical to lose set three when you’re up 2-0, and we’ve been really fighting to not do that. I think it disappointed me and I know it disappointed them a lot. Yet, Auburn made it really hard for us to put anything down. Give them lots and lots of credit; they had a really great game plan against us.
(On the feeling during the tight race in the third set) I didn’t feel good. It wasn’t what we were used to, and that wasn’t characteristic of us to not have a good finish at the end of set three when we were up. This group is experienced and talented and confident and that didn’t show at the end of the set.
(On going 2-0 in SEC) It’s really exciting. We are extremely happy that we are up 2-0 and have a good start in the SEC. We need to look at the win and be glad for the win. We’re taking our performance, at times today, pretty hard. We didn’t really meet the standards of play that we expect and that they expect. We’re still kind of trying to sort through all of the feelings right now because we have very high standards. I think once we get back in the gym and get back in our rhythm and remind ourselves how good we are and how talented we are, what a great team we have, and get rolling back in our rhythm that we’ll be able to appreciate it a lot more. It was a struggle and it was stressful and that’s still what I’m thinking about. But I’m very happy for the win. Auburn really gave us all we could handle. I’m really impressed with Auburn.
(On Auburn) They executed their defensive game plan against us and against our attackers. They dealt with Allie, Lindsey and Minnerly. They couldn’t deal with Tori very well and that was really a bright spot for me. I don’t think they handled Allie very well, but they certainly had a defense set up to try and stop her. That surprised me that they were that good on defense. They were really good on defense.
(On the absence of several key Auburn players) Sometimes teams really pick up and go harder when they’ve got someone off the court. They all have to step up if they are missing her, and I thought they did that beautifully. (Rick Nold) is a great coach and had programs before that were just really hard to play against. That was impressive, what Auburn was able to do without their No. 1 set-getter. Also, one of their 6-3 right-sides was out today, too, so we only saw four of their typical six attackers.
(On the team’s serving) We can really see the temperament of our team in the serving and passing. You can tell if we’re holding back or if we’re hesitant. What I really like about this team is that, serving-wise, we’re really aggressive. If we’re struggling, I don’t think it shows up in our serving this year for these individual servers. They keep going at teams and even though we may not get aces, we are keeping them, many times, out of system and unable to run their middle or unable to run super-fast at us. That’s helpful. We have to keep serving really tough and really aggressively, and we didn’t miss very many.
Texas A&M senior outside hitter Tori Mellinger
(On the third set loss) I feel like we were maybe doing too much, just trying too hard to win. I think we may have lost a sense of trust in ourselves and in our teammates. The second you start trying to overdo things and doing something for another teammate is when the chemistry falls apart, and I think that we did a really nice job of getting it back for the fourth set. We caught it and we realized it and adjusted it soon.
(On the feeling during the tight race in the third set) There’s always that pressure when it gets a little bit tighter every time, but those are the types of things that we need to practice because good teams are going to do that.
(On Sawatzky’s setting) We practice a lot coming out of the back row of making Allie our first attacker. She has the closest touch to the net and so she is our quickest attacker, so we work really hard. Just like we don’t like getting bad sets from her, she doesn’t like getting bad passes from us. She is an attacker as well as a pretty darn good setter.
(On the upcoming Kentucky rematch) I think we have a lot of returners that are ready to show them what we are really made of. I don’t think we really got the chance to when we played them last time. I think after a solid week of practice we will be able to come out and really compete against them and welcome them to Aggieland once more.
Texas A&M junior setter Allie Sawatzky
(On the third set loss) I felt like we tried to do different things or we tried to do things too hard. We could have kept playing the way we were playing and finished.
(On shift in momentum during third set) I definitely felt it during the second set that we were on a roll. In the third set, I didn’t really feel a wall but we were really tight with them and we tried to push too hard and it had the opposite effect.
(On her personal setting game and her ability to attack the second ball) Our passing is doing really well with that. They’re putting it in a spot that either I can attack it or I can give it to my hitters to get the best option. I just think that passing has been improving greatly recently.