COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Sixteenth-ranked and defending Southeastern Conference champion Texas A&M begins its 2016 campaign this weekend as the Aggies compete in the two-day North Texas Challenge at the Mean Green Volleyball Center in Denton, Texas. Texas A&M opens against Nevada on Friday at 3:30 p.m. Texas A&M returns to the court Saturday for two matches, facing No. 15 Ohio State at 1 p.m. and concluding the tournament against host North Texas at 6:30 p.m.
Friday, August 26
10:30 a.m. North Texas vs. Nevada
12:30 p.m. #15 Ohio State vs. Texas State
3:30 p.m. #16 Texas A&M vs. Nevada
6:30 p.m. North Texas vs. #15 Ohio State
Saturday, August 27
11 a.m. North Texas vs. Texas State
1 p.m. #16 Texas A&M vs. #15 Ohio State
4 p.m. Nevada vs. Texas State
6:30 p.m. #16 Texas A&M vs. North Texas
FOLLOW THE ACTION:
· Live scoring and results for all matches will be available on the tournament central page: http://www.meangreensports.com/sports/w-volley/spec-rel/ntex-challenge-16.html
· Live scoring links for Texas A&M matches will be available at 12thMan.com
· Updates and other information can be found by following @AggieVolleyball on Twitter
TEXAS A&M NOTES:
· Texas A&M returns 14 letterwinners–including five starters plus the libero–from last year’s team that went 24-7 overall, 16-2 in the SEC, and was 18th in the final AVCA poll after advancing to the second round of the NCAA Championship. The Aggies also welcome eight freshmen as well as a redshirt freshman, making their 23-member squad the largest since Laurie Corbelli was hired as the Aggies’ head coach in 1993.
· Starters returning include 2015 SEC Player of the Year Stephanie Aiple (Jr., 6-1, S), AVCA second-team All-American Jazzmin Babers (RS Sr., 6-2, MB) and AVCA All-South Region Honorable Mention selection Kiara McGee (Jr., 5-11, OH), as well as Emily Hardesty (Sr., 6-3, OH) and Ashlie Reasor (Jr., 6-1, OPP). The Aggies also return junior libero Amy Nettles, who received the team’s best defensive player award last year and was the only Aggie to see action in all 115 sets last year.
· Babers, Hardesty, defensive specialists Katelyn Labhart and Victoria Arenas, and setter Kaysie Shebeneck make up the
Aggies’ five-member senior class.
· Others returning are middle blocker/opposite Kaitlyn Blake, defensive specialists Amy Houser and Gabby Litwin, outside hitters Margaret Connett and Paige Panter, and middle blocker/outside hitter Montse Castro who redshirted as a freshman last year.
· Two members of the freshman class, 6-1 middle blocker Hollann Hans and 6-0 outside hitter Amanda Heller, graduated early from high school and began training with the Aggies in January. Outside hitters Maddie Douglas (6-0), Bay Guentert (5-10) and Kiana Peroff (6-2), along with middle blocker Ellianna Shadricks (6-1) and setters Lexi Lopez (5-11) and Haley Slocum (5-8) round out the freshman class.
· The Aggies must replace last year’s two senior co-captains: middle blocker Shelby Sullivan and outside hitter Angela Lowak. Sullivan, who earned AVCA Honorable Mention All-America honors for a second consecutive season and was a three-time All-SEC selection, ended her four-year career as the school’s all-time record holder for career hitting percentage (.379). Lowak, who was in her third year as a starting outside hitter, became a valuable inspirational leader for the team after suffering a near season-ending injury prior to the start of conference play.
· Sophomore Kaitlyn Blake, a middle blocker from Allen, Texas, is projected to replace Sullivan. Blake saw the most playing time among the five-member 2015 freshman class, starting seven matches at either the opposite hitter of middle blocker position and appearing in 22 matches overall.
· Laurie Corbelli, the reigning SEC and AVCA South Region coach of the year, is 488-288 entering her 24th season as head coach of the Aggies and 588-334 in the 31st year of her head coaching career. She has led the Aggies to 19 NCAA appearances.
· The season opener against Nevada will be Texas A&M’s first regular season non-home match to be played in the Lone Star State since 2011, the Aggies’ final season as a member of the Big 12 Conference.
· Texas A&M is 29-11 in season openers since 1976, including 17-6 under Corbelli. In the 2015 opener, the Aggies fell at No. 2 Stanford, 3-0 (25-19, 25-19, 25-15)
· The Aggies enter 2016 riding a 14-match regular-season win streak. Texas A&M, which went 1-1 in NCAA play last year, has not lost a regular season match since falling at No. 17 Florida on Oct. 9, 2015.
· The Aggies’ No. 16 ranking in the AVCA Preseason Top 25 Poll matches their highest preseason ranking by the AVCA since they were No. 16 in 2005. Texas A&M was No. 13 in the AVCA’s 1997 preseason poll, marking the highest preseason ranking in program history.
· Texas A&M is No. 11 in the PrepVolleyball.com preseason Top 50 and No. 15 in the FloVolleyball (formerly Volleyball Magazine) NCAA Countdown top 20.
AGGIES PICKED TO WIN SEC
· Defending SEC champion Texas A&M is picked to retain its title this year, according to the 2016 SEC Preseason Coaches’ Poll. The Aggies, who went 16-2 in the SEC last season to win the first conference championship in school history, received seven of the 13 first-place votes and 137 total points to finish atop the preseason poll.
· Florida is picked second after receiving five first-place votes and 131 points, followed by third-place Kentucky with 123 points. Missouri, which tied Kentucky for second place in the final 2015 SEC standings, is picked fourth, having received one first-place vote and 119 total points. Arkansas (93 points) and Alabama (90) are fifth and sixth, respectfully, followed by Auburn (84) and LSU (60). Tennessee is picked ninth with 53 points, and Mississippi State and South Carolina are tied for 10th place with 39 points each. Ole Miss received 33 points and Georgia 13 points to round out the poll.
· Junior setter Stephanie Aiple, who last year became the Aggies’ first player to be named SEC Player of the Year, and senior redshirt middle blocker Jazzmin Babers both were named to the Preseason All-SEC Team.
AGGIE PLAYER NOTABLES
· Junior setter Stephanie Aiple was named to espnW’s national “12 to Watch” list.
· Aiple has 2,263 career assists and needs only 47 more assists to move into the top 10 in the Texas A&M career records.
· AVCA second-team All-American Jazzmin Babers, a senior middle blocker, hit a school season-record .412 in 2015, besting the previous record of .400 set by former two-time AVCA All-American Sherri Brinkman in 1984 and tied by Babers in 2014. She ranks sixth in the Texas A&M career records with 381 block assists and eighth in career blocks with 434 and also ranks 10th in career records with 1111.5 points.
· Babers has started every match of her career (92) and is hitting .372 for her career.
· Senior Emily Hardesty is the most experienced outside hitter of the team, having been a starter each of the last two seasons. In 2015, she was the only non-setter to play all six rotations.
· Junior outside hitter Kiara McGee ranked second among the starters with 2.96 kills and 3.26 points per set for the full season in 2015 and was voted the team’s most improved player. She stepped up and became a necessary mainstay in the starting lineup after senior and third-year starter Angela Lowak went down with a near season-ending knee injury at Florida State on Sept. 18
· Junior libero Amy Nettles, who has received the team’s best defensive player award each of the last two seasons, enters the season riding a streak of 16 consecutive matches with double-digit digs.
· Nettles averaged a team-leading 3.86 digs per set in 2015 and finished with 444 digs, ranking seventh in the A&M all-time season records.
· Nettles has 717 career digs overall in only two seasons and needs only 283 more to become the 21st player in Texas A&M history to join the 1,000 Digs Club.
2015 TEXAS A&M HIGHLIGHTS
· Texas A&M won the SEC Championship, marking the first-ever conference championship in program history.
· The Aggies were an all-time high No. 9 in the final NCAA RPI.
· Texas A&M was ranked No. 18 in final AVCA Top 25 poll, the program’s highest final ranking since 2003 when A&M was No. 16. It also marked A&M’s first Top 25 final ranking since 2009 when the Aggies finished No. 21.
· Texas A&M ended SEC play on a 14-match win streak, marking the most consecutive conference matches won in school history. The Aggies extended the win streak to 15 with an NCAA first-round victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
· Texas A&M received an all-time high No. 10 seed in the 64-team NCAA Championship field.
· The Aggies advanced to NCAA second round for fourth time in last five years and the 19th time overall.
· Texas A&M became one of only 13 teams in the nation to make at least 19 NCAA tournament appearances since Corbelli was hired in 1993,
· The Aggies finished the season 24-7, reaching the 20-victory milestone for the 16th time under Corbelli and the 27th time overall.
· The Aggies went 7-0 in 5-set matches.
· Corbelli was named the SEC and AVCA South Region coach of the year.
A&M SERIES HISTORY VS. NEVADA
· Texas A&M is 2-0 all-time against the Wolf Pack.
· Both meetings were at neutral sites.
· The teams last met Sept. 3, 2011, at the Portland/Nike Invitational in Portland, Ore., where the Aggies won, 3-0 (25-12, 25-21, 25-20).
· The teams first met Nov. 7, 1992, at Cal Poly-SLO, with Texas A&M pulling away for a 3-2 (15-10, 8-15, 9-15, 15-3, 15-13) victory.
A&M SERIES HISTORY VS. OHIO STATE
· The all-time series between Texas A&M and Ohio State is tied at 2-2, including 1-1 at neutral sites.
· The Buckeyes won the most recent meeting, a 3-0 (15-6, 15-13, 15-10) NCAA second-round victory on Dec. 3, 1994, in Columbus, Ohio.
TEXAS A&M SERIES HISTORY VS. UNT
· Texas A&M has won the last 17 meetings against North Texas -- all in two or three-set sweeps -- and is 17-1 in the all-time series.
· The Aggies are 3-1 in matches played against the Mean Green in Denton, Texas.
· The teams last met, Sept. 5, 1991, with the Aggies winning 3-0 (15-3, 15-9, 15-4) at G. Rollie White Coliseum in College Station.
· North Texas’ only victory was in the first-ever meeting between the two programs in 1976.
· Nevada will get one match under its belt before facing the Aggies, as the Wolf Pack open the season against North Texas, Friday morning at 10:30 a.m.
· Nevada went 12-18 overall in 2015, including 7-11 in the Mountain West Conference to mark the most conference victories since joining the league.
· The Wolf Pack, which placed seventh in the MWC, three spots above its predicted 10th-place showing, returns four seniors who saw significant playing time last year, but also must replace four seniors who were critical to last year’s success.
· Top returning players include senior outside hitter Madison Morell, who led the team with 3.88 kills and 4.50 points per set.
· Top losses are setter Taylar Rothfuss (10.17 apg), libero Kara Kasser (2.94 dpg) and middle hitter Sam Willoughby (0.93 bpg).
· The Wolf Pack, which went 4-0 in five-set matches, was outhit .226 to .188 last season.
· Lee Nelson (UC Santa Barbara, ‘91) is in his second season as head coach of the Wolf Pack.
SCOUTING OHIO STATE
· Ohio State returns three starters plus the libero as well as nine letterwinners overall from last year’s team that went 25-10 and advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 before suffering a 3-2 loss to top-ranked and No. 5 seed Washington.
· Taylor Sandbothe, a 6-2 senior middle blocker, represents the Buckeyes on the 14-member Preseason All-Big Ten Team. She earn AVCA All-America first-team honors as a junior after hitting .366 and averaging 2.96 kills and a team-high 1.26 blocks per set.
· Libero Valeria Leon returns for her senior season following a year in which she set the all-time school record with 4.31 digs per set.
· Sophomores Audra Appold (6-1, OH) and Taylor Hughes (6-1, S) were both named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team last season. Appold averaged 2.77 kills and 2.12 digs per set, and Hughes averaged 9.23 assists per set.
· The Buckeyes outhit their opponents, .242 to .176, last season. They also led their opponents in kills (13.81 to 11.57), digs (15.06 to 14.05) and blocks (2.53 to 2.15) per set.
· Geoff Carlston (Minnesota, ‘93) is 171-104 entering his ninth season as head coach of the Buckeyes.
SCOUTING NORTH TEXAS
· North Texas, which has been picked to finish sixth in Conference USA, was 20-13 overall last year and placed third in the league with an 11-5 record.
· Setter Amy Henard (9.63 apg) is the only senior on the squad, which returns 11 letterwinners overall.
· The Mean Green will be looking to replace two-time C-USA Player of the Year Carnae Dillard, who led the nation with 5.41 kills per set in 2015.
· Andrew Paileo is entering his fourth season as head coach of the Mean Green and has directed North Texas to consecutive 20-plus win seasons.
· Texas A&M, facing one of the toughest preconference schedules in the nation, heads to the Puerto Rico Clásico, Sept. 1-3, and will face No. 3 Minnesota and No. 17 Florida State, in addition to Virginia Tech.
· Overall, five of Texas A&M’s 11 preseason matches are against teams ranked in the top 20, including NCAA runner-up and No. 2nd Texas (Sept. 14), which received three first-place votes, and No. 4 Wisconsin in the Aggies’ home opener on Sept. 16 at Reed Arena.
Visit 12thMan.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 and Instagram by following @AggieVolleyball.