Several players were performing in front of an A&M crowd for the first time in their careers, as freshmen Emily Hardesty, Kaysie Shebeneck and Katelyn Labhart donned the Aggie uniform for the first time. It also was the first time on the Reed Arena floor for freshman libero Victoria Arenas, who joined the team in January.
Laurie Corbelli, entering her 21st season as head coach of the Aggies, is looking to replace four starters and the libero from last year’s senior-laden team. Seniors Allie Sawatzky, who has started every match in her career at the setter position, and Heather Reynolds, an outside hitter who also is relied on for her back row play, are the only two players on the squad who have started more than two matches in their careers. With so many holes to fill, Corbelli watched intently as all players on the 16-member roster saw action except for redshirt-freshman middle blocker Darby Graff and sophomore outside hitter Shelby Vaughan, who were held out with injuries.
Corbelli was especially pleased with the blocking, spearheaded by sophomore Shelby Sullivan and freshman-redshirt Jazzmin Babers in the middle, as well as the team’s serving, defense and overall depth.
The Aggies open the season August 30 against South Dakota State at the North Dakota Classic in Grand Forks, N.D. They play at the UTSA Classic on Sept. 5-6 in San Antonio before making their regular-season Reed Arena debut on Sept. 12 against Siena in the opener of the Texas A&M Invitational.
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Texas A&M Head Coach Laurie Corbelli quotes:
“It is just great to be able to be in an environment where you are performing in front of your fans and on the actual floor where you are going to be having to win. There definitely were a lot of jitters to start. We wanted to work through that, and that is the purpose of this (scrimmage). We just had a meeting with them and they said they were definitely nervous with lots of jitters, and yet they were able to work through it. They were relieved to get on this floor and compete.
“I’ve seen an awesome amount of energy, especially the young ones. They came in with a lot of excitement. They know they are talented. They know they are at a great university and in a program where they want to achieve a lot of things, so the adrenaline was really flowing and that was really nice to see. I saw that we are going to be a better blocking team this year. We’ve had some issues with blocking in the past, but this group as athletic as they are and as tall as they are, they are getting across the net better, so our blocking is definitely going to be better, and our serving as well.
“I thought Angela Lowak (sophomore, outside hitter) was a standout in a lot of ways. She is so dynamic. People came up to me afterwards and said she reminded them of Kelsey Black. I thought the defense overall, we made some beautiful saves and great digs. And I personally thought that our serving was really good, too. The serving was consistent, and I don’t think we missed more than one or two. The team settled down after we started, and even their comments were that it felt really consistent on the court. It was just a great chance for us to get out under the lights and get the jitters out, and I think it was successful in that.”
(On the difference between the scrimmage and regular practices)
“I could sense that they knew it was a competition and they knew they were performing. They were really good with the team chemistry, getting together, and they were excited when they scored points, more so than in practice. They were in a competitive mode.”
(On the team’s blocking)
“It’s a totaling new group of starting blockers. Our middles our really good blockers and so are (Sierra) Patrick and Shebeneck who has a great sense of blocking. Lowak jumps so high and is really doing a good job with her blocking. It is only going to get better. Babers and Sullivan are going to head up our blocking, and I think the blocking will be much improved from last year.”
Associate Head Coach John Corbelli quotes:
(On the team defense)
“Defensively, I thought we looked really strong and deep on both sides. On both sides defense was solid. It was good. (Kelsey) Kinley had a good night. Her passing was really strong. All the hitters had their moments. We’re trying to run a lot faster in the middle and it hasn’t been easy, but it looked good. I thought all three setters set quite well.”
(On the team depth)
“I was surprised on how deep we are. We are so deep. At least defensively we can do a lot. We have so many options and can move people to different spots. We don’t necessarily have a lot of depth in the middle.”
(On the team coming together)
“We’ve seen it in practice, but it just seemed that it could happen in a game. A couple of kids, like Emily Hardesty, I thought she looked nervous. She’s wanted to be here since she was 13. She didn’t make any mistakes, but in practice she has been dominating. She started picking it up at the end, but once she gets through the jittery time, she is going to be outstanding. The best thing was that everybody stepped up. I thought it was one of our better maroon and white games. We didn’t have to manufacture anything to even things up.”