COLLEGE STATION, Texas - The Texas A&M volleyball team clinched at least a share of the SEC Western Division title with a 25-20, 18-25, 25-15, 25-15 win over Missouri Friday on Senior Night at Reed Arena.
It was the seventh consecutive victory for the Aggies, who improve to 22-5 overall and 14-4 in the SEC with two matches remaining. Missouri falls to 18-10 overall and 9-8 in the SEC.
A&M's five seniors, playing in their final regular season home match, led the Aggies to the victory on their special day. Alisia Kastmo tied her career high with 21 kills while hitting at a .317 clip and also tied her career high in aces with four. Tori Mellinger posted her team-leading 12th double-double of the season with 13 kills and 14 digs. Lindsey Miller also reached double figures in kills with 10 and hit .444, and Stephanie Minnerly led the Aggies in blocks with three. In addition, libero Megan Pendergast led all players with 17 digs.
A&M jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the opening set and kept the lead for the remainder of the frame. The Aggies equaled their largest lead at 13-6, but the Tigers would chip away and get within 19-18 after scoring three unanswered points. Kastmo kept A&M in the lead with a kill, and Mellinger gave the Aggies a two-point cushion with a solo block.
A&M held a 23-20 advantage when Mellinger hit through the seam in the block to put the Aggies at set point. Missouri standout Lisa Henning, who took 56 swings and tied Kastmo with 21 kills in the match, then hit long to give the Aggies the 25-20 win.
A&M was flat in the second set, and Missouri used a 6-1 run to build a 22-16 lead. Mellinger put a kill down the Missouri block and the Tigers then hit into the net to put A&M within 22-18, but Missouri, which outhit the Aggies, .308 to .000, reeled off three consecutive points, including a triple block to close out the set and even the match.
The Aggies regrouped during the break and jumped out to a 16-7 lead to begin the third set. Missouri, which was outhit, .464 to .194 in the set, got within 17-12 but could get no closer as the Aggies began to put the set out of reach. A&M held a 22-15 advantage when Mellinger put down and kill and Minnerly teamed with setter Allie Sawatzky for a block to put the Aggies at set point. Minnerly followed with a kill on the slide attack to clinch the win and give A&M a 2-1 lead in the match.
A&M used a 5-0 run to jump out to an 8-4 lead in the fourth set, but Missouri would counter with a 6-1 rally to regain the lead at 10-9. A&M responded with a 7-0 run, which included three kills apiece by Kastmo and Mellinger, to put the Aggies ahead, 16-10. A&M later held a 20-12 lead when Missouri scored two points. After a kill by Miller ended the Tigers' run, Kastmo stepped to the service line and served three consecutive aces to put the Aggies at match point. Missouri was able to put Kastmo's fourth serve into play and later connected on a kill to stay alive, but their hopes of a comeback were dashed when they served long on the final play.
A&M outhit Missouri .229 to .173 for the match, posting 59 kills to the Tigers' 43. Sawatzky moved into fourth in the A&M career records with 3,248 assists after dishing out 50 assists tonight to lead A&M to a 59-40 overall advantage, and the Aggies also led in aces (9-1), and digs (65-50), while Missouri, the SEC leader in blocks per set, outblocked A&M, 9.5 to 7.
The Aggies conclude the regular season with a pair of road matches next week. A&M faces preseason SEC favorite Tennessee Wednesday at 6 p.m. (CT) at the Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn., and then closes out the schedule at Ole Miss, Friday at 7 p.m. at the Gillom Sports Center in Oxford, Miss.
The 64-team NCAA Championship bracket will be announced Sunday, Nov. 25 at 3 p.m. on ESPNU.
Texas A&M Post-Match Quotes
Coach Laurie Corbelli
(On the senior class and the win)
I thought they had a really good start and they came out with a lot of confidence and composure. They were disappointed with the way they lost it in set two. I was proud that they were able to get themselves back in the rhythm and the groove that they were in in set one. The seniors were the ones who really got the team back into the rhythm.
(On the errors and the loss in set 2)
It was so unusual and it wasn't at all what we thought would happen, especially after a smooth set one. I think it really stunned everybody that we lost our game.
(On Missouri's height)
They are a very tall team; it's a big block. That has had a tendency to get into our hitters heads, even though we had success in set one going at the block. They let something like that get in their heads and it distracted them and we focused on the wrong things.
(On Missouri's Lisa Henning)
She is definitely an all-conference player. She has awesome shots. She doesn't even put everything she's got on most of her shots. She just puts the ball where she wants it; great control, great speed and placement, and she is just a phenomenal attacker.
(On the string of aces at the end of set 4)
That was unusual. Honestly Missouri is one of the best passing teams we play. Even in the sets we were winning, they were playing really well. I thought that those serves going down at that point in the match was very significant and unusual.
(On winning the SEC West Division)
We won a significant title. It's not an SEC title but they like to put the two divisions out there. This was a random schedule. We played everyone they gave us and we have a better record than anyone else (in the West). Now we have two huge road matches that will be important for our momentum as we head into the national tournament.
(On getting an NCAA tournament seed)
To get a top 16 seed two years in a row would be pretty remarkable. It would say a lot about the senior class. They have a lot to do with the success we've had.
Senior outside hitter Tori Mellinger
(On regrouping after the second set)
We talked after the coaches left (the locker room) about believing in each other and getting that spark back on the court. Letting them get a couple runs here and there hurt us, and they used that momentum. We wanted to focus on starting strong and staying focused since we did so well in the first set.
(On calls that went against A&M)
Ref calls can go either way. Tonight we used it to our advantage. I think that every time there was a shaky, call we got the next point. A lot of teams can go the other way and start making more errors because they are upset. I was really impressed with how we were able to battle back and win the next point.
(On the 12th Man)
One of the more sad things about Senior Night is that we have to finish our season away. I feel bad for the other SEC schools that they don't get as big of crowds as we get. It is so much fun playing for thousands of people. They are a big part of what drives us. We can really feel their energy, and I'm going to really miss playing for a crowd like that.
Senior opposite Alisia Kastmo
(On the reason for the second-set loss)
We knew we wanted to extend Senior Night as long as possible.
(On the win on Senior Night)
It meant a lot; we did what we wanted to do. We performed well and had an exciting game in front of our 12th Man, hopefully not for the last time. With all our friends and family here, it was an extra bonus to get the win.
(On her string of aces near the end of the match)
I just wanted to make sure I still served aggressively as we were getting toward the end of the game and not let up at all. We are a strong serving team, so I feel like every game somebody has a little run of aces.