Nov. 27, 2010
COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Fifth-ranked Nebraska, playing its final league match as a member of the Big 12 Conference, came to Reed Arena needing a victory over Texas A&M in both teams' regular season finale to win an outright conference crown. The Huskers, who were upset by the Aggies in last year's trip to the Lone Star State, accomplished their goal today, topping A&M 25-16, 26-24, 25-17.
"These have been a tough couple of days," A&M coach Laurie Corbelli said. "The disappointment of realizing that we weren't going to playoffs, reflecting on the battles we lost in conference that if we had been able to get the majority of those five-set matches, how it could of looked so different. The team has really taken it hard, and it has been very difficult to get their minds thinking about competing against the No. 5 team in the country."
Nebraska (27-2, 19-1 Big 12), which will be joining the Big Ten Conference next year, took advantage of a slow start by A&M, going on an early 12-3 run to build a commanding 16-7 lead in the opening set. A&M, which was held to a -.030 hitting percentage in the frame, then scored three consecutive points as Stephanie Minnerly got a kill and teamed with Kelsey Black to block an attack by Morgan Broekhuis. Freshman setter Allie Sawatzky then followed with an ace to get within 16-10, but it would be the closest the Aggies would get in the set.
Trailing 24-13, A&M fought off three set points as the Huskers served long, Sawatzky and Lindsey Miller teamed for a block and a Nebraska attack went into the net. Tara Mueller ended A&M's comeback attempt, clinching the set with a kill.
Nebraska appeared to be in control of the second set after jumping out to an 8-1 lead and forcing an early A&M timeout. The Aggies mounted a comeback following the timeout, getting back-to-back kills by Alisia Kastmo and Chelsea Ringel. Nebraska then shanked back-to-back serves by Tori Mellinger and allowed Mellinger's next serve to drop untouched on the back line to put A&M within 8-6.
"That is when the team really got a little bit of life in them," Corbelli said. "It took our sophomore libero to get three aces to excite everybody and no one else had to do anything, just stand there and let the other team fall down while getting aced. Finally our team got excited and we battled."
Following a Nebraska timeout, Black posted A&M's sixth consecutive point with a kill before a serve into the net ended the run. Nebraska, however, served long on the next play and Miller followed with a solo block on a Brooke Delano attack to tie the score. The teams traded points and Nebraska was up, 12-11, when Black and Kastmo posted a kill apiece to give the Aggies a 13-12 lead. Broekhuis posted a kill but Kastmo and Ringel countered with back-to-back kills and Nebraska's Hannah Werth hit long to put A&M ahead 16-13. The lead was short lived as the Huskers rallied for five points to regain an 18-16 lead. A&M tied the score at 19 and 20 before Nebraska built a 24-21 lead.
Minnerly staved off the first set point with a kill, and Kastmo followed with her fifth kill of the set. Minnerly and Black then blocked Broekhuis as A&M fought off the third set point and evened the score for the ninth time in the stanza. Werth came back with a kill off the block to put the Huskers up, 25-24, and serving for the set for the fourth time. Nebraska then came through with the set-winning point as Delano was credited with the kill after Sawatzky was whistled for a back row block while trying to set a ball that hung over the plane of the net.
Nebraska, which outhit A&M .333 to .217 in the second set, hit .364 to A&M's .062 in the third set to take the match. A&M scored the first point of the set on a Minnerly kill, but it would be the only lead for the Aggies as Nebraska went on a 5-1 run. The Huskers continued to widen the gap, later going on a 7-1 run to take a 14-6 lead. A&M scored four unanswered points to get within 14-10 but could get no closer. The Huskers went on to build a 22-12 margin and were serving for the match at 24-15. Black recorded a kill and Minnerly followed with her fifth kill before Werth secured the win with a kill.
Broekhuis led the Huskers with 10 kills, and Kayla Banwarth had 13 digs. Delano led all players with seven blocks as Nebraska outhit A&M, .320 to .099 in the match.
"I feel like Nebraska is a fun team to play against," Corbelli said. "I think we learn a lot when we play Nebraska, and I love playing Nebraska. It is a great challenge. It is great volleyball. I'm really disappointed that we won't have them any more, because I think it is great college volleyball, and I like being a part of that."
Kastmo tied for match-high honors with 10 kills for the Aggies, who are ineligible for postseason play after finishing 13-17 overall, including 7-13 in Big 12 matches. Mellinger led A&M and tied for match-high honors in digs with 13, giving her 467 digs for the season, the fourth most in A&M single-season records and the most digs since rally scoring began in 2001. Minnerly led the Aggies in blocks with five.
Black, who entered the match leading the Big 12 in points per set and having led or tied for the team lead in kills in every contest this season despite dealing with a sore shoulder during the latter part of the schedule, finished with a season-low five kills and six points. She finishes the season with 539 points, ranking fourth in the A&M season records.
"If we are missing our go-to player (Black) in any regard of the game or if she is having a hard time, it snowballs," Corbelli said. "They have great desire to be a great team, and they are incredibly disappointed with the season. Now that it is over, this is the beginning of our quest for a Big 12 title in 2011."
The Aggies have no seniors and are expected to return everyone next year. The Huskers will find out who their first opponent in postseason play will be when the 64-team NCAA bracket is announced Sunday between 2-2:30 p.m. on ESPNews.