COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Texas A&M senior outside hitter Tori Mellinger had a team-high 12 kills to lead the Aggies to a 25-17, 25-22, 25-21 victory over Alabama tonight at Reed Arena.
It was the third consecutive victory for the Aggies, who complete the season-series sweep against the Crimson Tide and improve to 18-5 overall. A&M also improves to 10-4 in Southeastern Conference matches and takes sole possession of first place in the Western Division with previous co-leader Arkansas falling at Auburn tonight, 3-2.
It was Alabama's sixth straight loss, as the Crimson Tide falls to 14-12 overall and 3-11 in the SEC.
The Aggies used an 8-2 run in the opening set to pull away from an 8-8 tie and led the remainder of the frame. A&M held a 22-17 lead when senior middle blocker Stephanie Minnerly put down back-to-back kills to put the Aggies at set point. Mellinger followed with a kill to close out the set.
Although A&M hit only .214 in the opener, the Aggies held Alabama to a .000 hitting percentage with the Crimson Tide connecting on only six kills and committing six errors, while A&M tallied 17 kills in the stanza.
A&M never trailed in the second set despite both teams hitting an identical .341. The Aggies held their largest lead at 17-10 before Alabama began chipping away and mounted a three-point rally that put the Crimson Tide within 22-20. Aggie freshman middle blocker Shelby Sullivan ended Alabama's run with a kill, and the teams traded points for the remainder of the set with A&M freshman outside hitter Sierra Patrick tooling the block for the set-winning kill.
A&M spotted the Tide a 4-0 lead in the third set but eventually took the lead at 10-9 as Patrick pounded down an overpass for the kill. Kills by Pricilla Duke-Ezeji and Kayla Fitterer returned the lead to Alabama, but the Tide served long on the next play and Patrick and senior middle blocker Lindsey Miller teamed for a block to give the Aggies a lead they would not lose. Those two points were the start of a 7-1 surge for A&M as the Aggies built their biggest lead of the set at 17-12.
Alabama later got within 23-21, and A&M coach Laurie Corbelli called her first timeout of the match. Miller came out of the timeout and put the Aggies at set point after tipping the ball in for a kill. Junior setter Allie Sawatzky followed with her eighth kill of the match to clinch the sweep for the Aggies.
A&M outhit Alabama, .322 to .194 for the match, leading in kills, 57-31. Sawatzky had 46 assists to lead A&M to a 54-30 advantage in assists, and senior libero Megan Pendergast had a team-high 14 digs to help the Aggies to a 57-37 advantage.
Mellinger completed a double-double with 13 digs, giving her 1,376 digs for her career and moving her from sixth to fourth in the A&M career records. It is the most digs by an A&M player during the 30-point and 25-point scoring eras.
Senior opposite Alisia Kastmo joined Mellinger in double-digit kills with 11, and Patrick pitched in a career-high eight kills in the win.
Duke-Ezeji led the Tide with 12 kills and Fitterer finished with 10. Alabama's Katherine White led all players with 16 digs, and Kanesha Burch posted four blocks to lead Alabama to a 7-3.5 advantage in blocks.
The Aggies return to Reed on Sunday for a crucial match-up against Arkansas, which will be aiming to rejoin A&M atop the SEC Western Division. First serve is at 1 p.m. There will be a familiar face on the Razorbacks' bench as assistant coach Carol Price-Torok played for A&M and coach Laurie Corbelli from 2000-03.
In the first-ever meeting between the two volleyball programs, A&M defeated Arkansas, 3-2, earlier this season in Fayetteville.
Texas A&M Post-Match Quotes
Coach Laurie Corbelli
(On what she saw in the match)
I saw a really united Aggie group that had put their minds to being as aggressive and as together as possible and really determined with taking a match at a time and knowing how important each match is right now as we begin to conclude our regular season.
(On Sierra Patrick)
When she came off the court, we told her "Just swing away. I don't care if it hits the guy in the 10th row. Hit as hard as you can. Go up with all you've got. Whatever happens, happens. We don't care." She's just got that kind of a mode on the court anyway. She has an easy-to-accept mode. She's really a player, too. She knows the game really well and she can play the whole game. She's been working in practice to make me put her out there. I give her credit because she knows I don't give her time on the court in a match unless she's been showing in practice consistently that she should be out there, and she has done that.
(On playing younger players)
I think that once we started to see some consistency in practice, we were ready to put them in the game. There's opportunity every day in practice. We've been making it clear to them that every single day matters, so when we see the consistency we know that we've got to make a plan before the match on we can do. I don't want to play it safe. I don't want to just play players that I know what I'm going to get. Now that these freshmen are all doing fabulous in practice, it's really hard to get all of them out there. We are looking for the best combinations and looking for the players that I think have consistently earned it and then just going with it. We just trust that they are going to be fine and that the older players on the court remain the core, like with Tori Mellinger, for example. Tori is like glue on the court. She passes, she digs, she blocks, she hits, she serves. She does everything but set. It's very difficult to take Tori off the court, but we tried it some tonight with a junior, Mariah Agre, to serve for Tori and give her a little bit of a break. I thought it was fantastic. We don't do that a whole lot, and I'm starting to feel like we are ready for that. It makes other people have to step up and be the glue.
Senior Outside Hitter Tori Mellinger
(On preparation against Arkansas)
We definitely have been practicing a lot on being prepared on Sunday, no matter what. We've had a bit of a hard time adjusting to the new SEC schedule, and I think one of our big focuses has been to not let up at all on Sundays and to just fight our hardest. That's what we plan to do with Arkansas. We plan to play it like any other game, forget that it is Sunday and forget that it's a new schedule. We will come in and really play our hardest. I don't think we are going to treat it any differently. Our main goal is to win the entire SEC so that is what we are pushing for. It's a definite plus winning on Sunday, but we really just want the "W" in the column. We are hoping to win the rest of our games and hoping some key things happen.
(On the younger players)
I love seeing the freshmen out there because they jump on every opportunity the coaches give them and they come in with such high energy. It's really good for our team to have them out there. If we do get kind of complacent and are tired, you do need the freshmen in there. They help us a lot more than we help them, because they bring in newness and freshness to the game that we forget about sometimes because we have been doing it for such a long time. As far as advice goes, it is just encouragement during games. They just need to know that you are covering behind them, you've got a pass for them or that you are on the court playing for them, too.
Junior Setter Allie Sawatzky
(On the team's performance)
The passing was really good today. We were getting lots and lots of digs. That allows all of us to keep trying and doing our things. I guess the right opportunities came.
(On her personal performance)
It's the same thing. I know that whoever I give the ball to, I know they are going to get the kill and that's really nice to have.
(On the younger players)
You could really feel their energy when they came in. They were pumped. They wanted to go in and be aggressive and swing away. That's great to have as a setter, to set them and know that they are going to go up and just give it their all every time they swing.
REMINDER: Reservations must be made by Tuesday, Nov. 6 for the season's final "Lunch with Laurie" on Tuesday, Nov. 13. RSPV by contacting Kelly Stumph at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The luncheon will be noon-1 p.m. in the volleyball practice gym at Reed Arena and will include a meal, video highlights and commentary from Corbelli as well as players depending on class schedules. In addition, those purchasing a lunch ticket will automatically be entered to win a Texas A&M volleyball jersey autographed by the team. The drawing will be held at the conclusion of the luncheon.
Free parking is available in lot 100g at Reed, and fans should enter Reed through the main entrance facing Olsen Blvd. and follow signs to the practice gym.
Cost is $10 per person at the door (cash or check only).
For more information, please contact Kelly Stumph at email@example.com or 979-862-3925.