COLLEGE STATION, Texas – In its first-ever league match as a member of the Southeastern Conference, the Texas A&M volleyball team swept Ole Miss, 25-21, 25-23, 25-16, tonight at Reed Arena to notch the school’s first SEC victory in any sport.
“I didn’t know how the team was going to come out and handle the hoopla and importance of the first SEC match in the history of Texas A&M University for volleyball,” A&M coach Laurie Corbelli said. “We were antsy. We were just being human. We were just excited, had a lot of adrenaline, and knew that we needed to spend some time just working to calm down and get into our rhythm. They want to please and not disappoint, so they put a lot of pressure on themselves. Once they took a lot of deep breaths and started to calm down, I thought our game really started to resemble how we’ve been performing.”
A&M senior opposite Alisia Kastmo led all players with 15 kills while hitting at a .444 clip and also completed a double-double with a team-high 10 kills. Aggie senior outside hitter Tori Mellinger finished with 13 kills, including the one that clinched the historic win and gave the Aggies their eighth consecutive victory.
Ole Miss (6-4) scored the first point of the match with a block, but A&M junior setter Allie Sawatzky countered with a kill for the Aggies’ first point. A&M went on to take a 3-1 lead before the over-excitement and adrenaline began to affect the Aggies’ play as they made consecutive errors and allowed the Rebels to score six unanswered points to build a 7-3 lead.
A&M (9-1) later trailed, 10-6, when senior middle blocker Stephanie Minnerly posted one of her four kills in the set, which began a 4-0 run for the Aggies. With the score knotted at 10-10, Ole Miss got a kill, but Kastmo countered with a kill to tie the score for the final time. A&M senior middle blocker Lindsey Miller then came through with a kill to give the Aggies the lead for good.
The Maroon and White continued to string together runs of points throughout the remainder of the frame and built its largest lead at 22-14 following a Minnerly kill courtesy of an Ole Miss overpass. Minnerly later put the Aggies at set point, 24-17, with an off-speed shot, but Ole Miss was able to fight off four points before Kastmo put down a kill to close out the set.
There were 10 ties in the second set before Kastmo gave the Aggies the lead for good at 18-17 with one of her seven kills in the stanza. A&M held a 22-19 lead following a kill by Minnerly, but Ole Miss cut the margin to 22-21 on a kill and an A&M attack error, forcing Corbelli to call a timeout.
Kastmo got a kill coming out of the timeout to keep the score in A&M’s favor. The Tyler, Texas, native continued to keep the Aggies in the lead, scoring each of A&M’s final three points with kills as the teams traded points for the remainder of the set.
Two A&M attack errors to start the third set gave Ole Miss its only lead before Mellinger and Company took control. Mellinger, who had seven kills and hit .462 in the frame, led the Aggies on an 8-1 run to build a 9-2 lead. The Rebels, who were outhit, .382 to .128 in the set, later got within 12-9 but could get no closer as A&M reeled off five unanswered points to go up, 17-9.
Ole Miss, which falls to 0-6 all-time against the Aggies, never got closer than six points and trialed 22-15 when a Sawatzky kill and a block by Minnerly and Kastmo put A&M serving for the match. Wells staved off one match point with her eighth kill overall before Mellinger secured the victory with a kill.
Kara Morgan led Ole Miss with 12 kills and Ashley Veach and Amanda Philpot tied for match-high honors with 12 digs each.
A&M outhit Ole Miss, .310 to .202, for the match as the Aggies posted their sixth straight sweep and extended their consecutive sets won to 13.
The Aggies return to Reed Arena on Sunday to take on Auburn. First serve against the Tigers is at 1 p.m. It will be “Aggie Ring Day” and anyone wearing an Aggie Ring will receive a free ticket at the ticket window at Reed.
TEXAS A&M QUOTES
Head Coach Laurie Corbelli
On faster points and blocks: I was pleased with that. I thought Ole Miss started this match serving really, really tough at us, and they chose our front row outside hitters, Tori and Heather. They backed them up and served them tough and deep so that hopefully they would be taken out of our offense. I thought that was really effective at first. It kind of takes us out of our rhythm…until we could get adjusted and make a couple of slight changes. Then we started to get into our mode. But I thought that was very effective. When we made the changes, I thought we became more effective than before and it didn’t affect us as much...I thought we had some really nice blocks that don’t show up on the score sheet because they were doing a fantastic job of covering their hitters and many times those blocks would have gone to the ground, but they had some pretty phenomenal defensive players that stuck a fist out and managed to save the ball…I liked the formation of our block, the strength of our block. I thought we were together better. Our left front blockers against their right side attackers did a beautiful job tonight. It was one of the best performances by our left side blockers that I’ve seen in a long time.
On the play of senior middle blocker Stephanie Minnerly: If we’re not passing in front of the net or within five feet of the net, it’s really hard to get the ball to Stephanie and to Lindsey. Many times their best option is in transition when we’ve dug a ball or they’ve given us a free ball. Then, when you attack your opponents really fast, it’s difficult to stop, and that’s where Minnerly has been really shining. She’s working really hard coming off the block and getting into an attack mode right away. That’s where you build your trust with your setter. You’re always there. You’re always up. She knows you’re coming hard to get in the air and to be a threat. I’ve always said Minnerly’s been one of my hardest workers…and I don’t know if there are many who have worked as hard as she has …and it shows up on the court.
On the play of senior setter Allie Sawatzky: She’s really good. Because she can attack, because she’s got nice height and reach, defenses always have to be ready for what she can throw their way. Also, she’s in her third year of starting so her location is getting better and better. Her understanding of what we’re trying to do and of the weaknesses on the opponent’s side, just the flow of the game and how to manage the game. She’s got more experience at that, and I think that’s showing as well. She keeps her calm. She stays consistently very calm and composed, and I think the whole team plays off of that really well. They see that she’s not getting rattled, she’s not screaming and yelling at them, and she’s not getting yelled at by coaches. She’s very cerebral. She’ll take in the information, she’ll process it, and then she’ll act on it. It’s a huge advantage for Texas A&M Volleyball to have a person running your offense that can do all of those things.
Texas A&M Senior Opposite Alisia Kastmo:
On the difference of this being an SEC match: We’ve had two weeks on the road leading up to this game, so it’s been a big build-up for us. We’ve been talking about the SEC all season and what we want to do in it. It was a good way to come out.
On her personal game: Like Laurie was saying, Allie’s a great setter and she knows how to get us one-on-ones all the time with drawing the block herself and spreading the offense out. I was able to get a lot of one-on-ones...and I was able to see the court really well from Allie.
On winning 13 sets in a row: We get them done, the faster the better. We like winning in three. Like Laurie told us in the break, it’s easy to come out in the third set and lighten up, but we really wanted it and had some things we wanted to change and get better at. I feel like we’re coming out each game as hard as we can and we end up winning in three.
Texas A&M Senior Middle Blocker Stephanie Minnerly:
On her personal game: I went to talk to Laurie at the beginning of the week and she just told me, ‘just get up there. Put your arm up quick and they won’t be able to stop you.’ I thought, ‘well, if it’s that easy…’ Then I went out there and said, ‘gosh, it’s really easy!’ Sometimes you get in your head and you feel like the court is a lot smaller than it really is. I saw the court, I saw where the block was and I was able, thanks to the set, to put it places on the court.
On blocking: We have been really focusing on blocking… [The coaches] and I have been focusing on pressing over fast and keeping my left hand up. Basically just narrowing each tactic makes the biggest difference.