NEW HAVEN, CT -- Senior middle blocker Stephanie Minnerly posted career highs with 13 kills and a .500 hitting efficiency to lead Texas A&M to a hard-fought 25-20, 35-33, 22-25, 25-18 victory over a feisty and inspired Yale team tonight at John J. Lee Amphitheater.
“I’ve seen Minnerly do some great things in practices,” A&M coach Laurie Corbelli said. “We know that she has a lot of experience, and there are days when she is really, really hot like today. She has the fastest arm on the team, she is going to work her tail off to get the job done, and when she is hot, she is really hard to stop. That was just a really nice surprise for our opponents, who probably had not seen her very much. It was good for her. We needed her to play like that.”
A&M, facing its first Ivy League team in program history, also had career performances from junior defensive specialist Kelsey Kinley and junior outside hitter Heather Reynolds, who both posted personal bests with 20 digs apiece as the Aggies spoiled the Bulldogs’ season opener and also snapped Yale’s 10-match home winning streak to improve to 3-1.
A&M used runs of four and five points to build a 14-8 lead in the opening set. Yale would get within 16-12 but kills by setter Allie Sawatzky and Minnerly put the Aggies back ahead by six points. The teams then traded points until, with A&M leading 22-17, Yale committed a hitting error and Lindsey Miller followed with a kill to put the Aggies serving for the set. The Bulldogs scored three unanswered points before senior outside hitter Tori Mellinger unleashed her fifth kill to end the set.
The second set was an intense battle that saw 18 ties and six lead changes, as well as a late rally that led to an A&M record 35 points, the Aggies’ most points scored in a frame since the 25-point cap went into effect in 2008. The Bulldogs broke away from an 8-8 tie and went on to build their biggest lead at 19-14. After using their second timeout, the Aggies ended the run and began a run of their own as Sawatzky and Miller posted a block and Minnerly got a tip kill. Two hitting errors by the Bulldogs put A&M within 19-18.
The teams exchanged points until Yale scored two to go up, 23-20. Aggie senior opposite Alisia Kastmo then had back-to-back kills, and Reynolds and Miller followed with a block to tie the score for the first time since 8-8. Yale then got a kill off the block to be serving for the set, but Kastmo kept A&M alive with a kill. Yale registered another kill, but Miller blasted a kill and then teamed with Mellinger for a block to put A&M up 26-25, giving the Aggies their first lead since 8-7.
Yale fought off four set points and retook the lead at 30-29 as A&M’s attack sailed long. Yale was then whistled for a ball handling error and Reynolds followed with a kill to regain the lead for A&M, 31-30. The score was tied three more times before Mellinger pounded a kill down the line and Sawatzky followed with a kill to give the Aggies a 35-33 come-from-behind win and a 2-0 lead in the match.
Yale took control of the third set, and although A&M overcame a six-point deficit late in the stanza, the Bulldogs outhit the Aggies, .424 to .206 to get the win. Yale held a 20-14 lead when A&M reeled off five unanswered points to get within 20-19. They later tied the score at 21 and 22 before Yale posted three consecutive kills to get the win.
Behind the strong serving of back-up setter Mariah Agre, A&M jumped out to a five-point lead to begin the fourth set and went on to build what would become an insurmountable 16-3 lead. The Bulldogs continued to fight and later got within 21-16 but could get no closer. The Aggies were up, 24-18, when Yale hit into the net to end the match.
“Serving and passing in the fourth set got them when we went on a big run,” Corbelli said. “They struggled, and with this kind of scoring it is tough to get back when you let yourself get down 6, 7 or 8 points. Our serving was consistent. Agre is one of our best servers and she was able to keep pressure on them, and that started to separate us in the fourth set.”
Mellinger led A&M with 14 kills for the match, and Kastmo also had double-figure kills with 11. Mellinger completed a double-double with 15 digs, and senior libero Megan Pendergast added 11 digs.
Kendall Polan was the only Yale player to reach double figures in kills with 17, but the Bulldogs had five players record double-digit digs.
“(Yale) played some really intense and great defense,” Corbelli said. “Certainly with five players in double-figure digs, that hasn’t happened in a long time where we have had a team that has been that accurate with their defense. They played inspired and had a great game play and it was really tough for us to be on our first road match and make the adjustments as we were going, because we didn’t know anything about them.”
A&M closes out the Yale Classic with a pair of matches on Saturday. The Aggies face American (2-1) at 10 a.m. (CT) and then close out the tournament against Stony Brook (1-3) at 4 p.m. (CT).
“We have to sharpen up our passing,” Corbelli said about tomorrow’s matches. “I felt like that was a little bit off tonight, and the styles that these two teams are going to play, they are aggressive, they are going to come at us really hard and we know it. We are going to have to find a way to be on the offensive more than the defensive like we were tonight.”
Live stats of all matches will be available at http://livestats.prestosports.com/yale/.