COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Texas A&M led from start to finish as the Aggies cruised to a 25-6, 25-15, 25-18 victory over South Carolina tonight at Reed Arena.
It was the fifth consecutive victory for the Aggies, who improve to 11-6 overall and 5-1 in Southeastern Conference matches. South Carolina suffered its fourth consecutive loss and falls to 13-5 overall and 1-5 in conference play.
Texas A&M shredded the South Carolina defense in the opening set, with junior setter Stephanie Aiple directing the Aggie offense to a blistering .652 hitting efficiency. Junior outside hitter Kiara McGee set the tone from the get-go, getting a straight-down kill to start the match and then putting down a South Carolina overpass on the ensuing play. The Aggies held a 4-2 lead when the Gamecocks served long and freshman outside hitter Hollann Hans followed with three consecutive kills during an 8-0 A&M run. Texas A&M continued to pull away, twice reeling off runs of five points while never allowing the Gamecocks to score consecutive points. South Carolina, which hit .000 in the set, had an attack error that put the Aggies at set point, and Texas A&M senior middle blocker Jazzmin Babers ended the frame with a solo block.
The Gamecocks’ six points in the stanza tied the A&M record for fewest points allowed in a non-fifth set, first accomplished in a 25-22, 25-6, 25-18 sweep against South Carolina in the final match of the 2013 regular season and tied earlier this season in a 3-1 victory at LSU.
The Aggies held a 3-2 lead in the second set before a McGee kill marked the start of a 9-0 run, giving A&M its largest lead of the stanza, 12-2. South Carolina got within five points at 18-13 following a 3-0 run—equaling its longest scoring streak of the match—but could get no closer. The Aggies held a 20-14 cushion before a Gamecock service error, a kill by Babers, an ace by Texas A&M senior defensive specialist Victoria Arenas and a kill by McGee put the Aggies at set point. The Gamecocks, who were still hitting .000 for the match, got a block on the next play before Babers got a kill to close out the set and put the Aggies up, 2-0, in the match.
Texas A&M sophomore middle blocker Kaitlyn Blake, the reigning SEC Player of the Week, and junior opposite hitter Ashlie Reasor had back-to-back kills to begin the third set, and the Aggies never let up. Even libero Amy Nettles got a kill in the set, digging a ball that went over the net and fell in for a kill to put the Aggies up, 20-14. Reasor won a joust to put A&M ahead, 21-14, before the teams began to exchange point for point. Senior setter Kaysie Shebeneck, who replaced Aiple with the Aggies up, 19-12, got the match-ending kill.
McGee and Hans tied for match-high honors in kills with 11 apiece while hitting .348 and .333, respectively. Aiple had 30 assists as A&M hit a season-high .404 while holding the Gamecocks to a .088 hitting efficiency.
Junior defensive specialist Gabby Litwin had a season-high 10 digs, tying Nettles for match-high honors, and sophomore defensive specialist Amy Houser led all players and tied her career high with two aces. Babers and Blake tied for match-high honors with three blocks, giving Babers 490 total blocks for her career and moving her into a tie for third place in the A&M all-time records with former two-time All-American Sherri Brinkman (1983-85).
The victory gave Texas A&M head coach Laurie Corbelli her 599th win in her 31-year head coaching career, as well as her 499th victory in her 24th season as head coach of the Aggies.
The Aggies will aim to give her a milestone victory and win their sixth consecutive match when they return to Reed Arena on Sunday at 4 p.m. for a highly anticipated match against No. 9 Florida. Texas A&M posted an epic victory against the Gators last year in College Station, coming back from a 0-2 set deficit to win the match 3-2 on Senior Day. It was Florida’s first-ever loss in the all-time series against the Aggies, who went on to win their first conference championship.
It is the Aggies annual “Dig Pink” match, and anyone wearing pink to the match can purchase a ticket at the entrance for only $3 and also receive a free pink lemonade. In addition, the first 300 fans will be given a free Dig Pink shirt.
Every Sunday is “Funday” at Reed Arena. Up to four kids are admitted free with the purchase of one regular-priced adult ticket for that day’s match. Also take advantage of the free “Kids’ Court” at the volleyball practice gym prior to first serve. Activities include arts and crafts, games, volleyball and more.
The Aggies are currently accepting donations for their “Dig Pink” initiative and encourage fans to visit their online fundraiser page, https://giving.side-out.org/campaigns/11634. All funds raised will be donated to The Side-Out Foundation and applied toward a clinical trial specifically for patients with Stage 4 breast cancer, the most advanced form of the disease and the least funded area of research.
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.
TEXAS A&M POSTMATCH QUOTES:
TEXAS A&M HEAD COACH LAURIE CORBELLI
On today’s rhythm…
“We haven’t been starting that strong in matches. It’s been a goal of ours to work on starting stronger. I just saw a really consistent focus from my players yesterday and today. I don’t know, just a little bit of a flip of a switch in terms of attitude. It’s so easy this time of year, halfway in to think, ‘ok here we are at nine weeks same thing, mid-terms.’ It’s a grind. We still have six to eight weeks, so you kind of have a team that is stuck in the middle of ‘ok this is getting hard but I don’t see the end yet.’ In my mind and in my experience, it's a really critical time of the season where you have to really hope that your players respond to your begging them to stay focused, stay excited and still find the passion for volleyball and for working hard and for the grind, so to speak. I think this performance at this time of year might be one of our best in a long time for my program.”
On the Aggie’s confidence...
“Everyone gets confidence from different things. Our team has been working a lot on assisting each other, being there to support each other from a confidence standpoint and just from a support standpoint. In volleyball when everything is on display, you can’t hide anything. You can’t hide your expression. You can’t hide your disappointment. You have to fake it sometimes, even if you feel like you don’t want to show it. Confidence is a huge issue, and anything like a straight down kill or a kill that doesn’t get touched to start a match can really be meaningful. Just like getting stuffed blocked the first part of the match, what that can do to any players. How they have to learn how to come back from whether it’s positive or negative, however they respond is going to set them up for their next play. They are really starting to understand that and incorporate that a lot more.”
On South Carolina...
“That team didn’t ever really get going. They can be a really dangerous team. We’ve gone to five sets with them too many times to count. They are so athletic and they are very well coached, they just had a bad night. I think we did some really nice things, but they did have a bad night. I have the utmost respect for that program and that coach. We really knew some players we wanted to get on top of and stay on them. They just didn’t have a good rhythm. Their passing kind of broke down a little bit. I don’t know if it was our serving. I think they just struggled getting into a rhythm. They are 13-5 overall. They are a good team but just didn’t play well tonight.”
“We have got to pick it up and keep the intensity; get more intensity, smooth out these areas. It’s always a constant challenge honestly to win a match. Wins with rally scoring, I’ve said it for fifteen years, winning with rally scoring is hard. Everyone can win on any given night, I really believe that, no matter what the level. It’s the type of game that your errors help them out. Our hitters are not making the unforced errors that we had made in the past, in past seasons, in recent matches maybe early in the season. I can’t tell you the last time I’ve seen so few errors per individual, especially our pin hitters, not making errors. It’s just turned our game around.”
TEXAS A&M JUNIOR SETTER STEPHANIE AIPLE
On outside hitter Kiara McGee...
“Kiara brings great energy on the court when she does get awesome kills like that. It’s really fun to see the team’s reaction to her. She calls the ball, she demands it, and as a setter that makes me want to give her the ball.”
On today’s passing game...
“I think our defensive specialists and Amy [Nettles] did a fantastic job tonight. [Them] knowing when I’m front row, knowing when I’m back row and pushing the ball up to the net makes my life so much easier. When the passing is there and when the hitter is there, I can basically do whatever and it will be successful.”
On setter Kaysie Shebeneck...
“Our practice gym is so competitive, and so I think all the setters work really hard in the gym. She pushes me every day, and then to see her go out there and perform and do a really nice job is really good to see.”
TEXAS A&M JUNIOR OUTSIDE HITTER KIARA MCGEE
On today’s rhythm…
“As a team, from the beginning of the season, we’re really on the come-up. I think mentally we are so much stronger and we are finding our rhythm being together as a team. We are grinding out and playing for each other more. I think that is the best feeling.”
On playing at Reed Arena...
“I love playing here. Being away for pretty much all of our preseason was kind of rough. When we get here, we always have our crowd backing us and everyone is on our side. It’s a great environment to play in, and give us the confidence that we need to get the wins that we are getting.”
(© 2016 KAGS)