"I am really proud of my team for the season they had: 23-8, back to the playoffs, second round," said A&M head coach Laurie Corbelli, who entered the match with 499 career victories in her 26th season and 399 wins in her 19 years at A&M. "We're heartbroken about the loss, but (Kentucky) deserved the win today. They played great. I'm proud of my team and I told them to hold their heads high. They're definitely Fightin' Texas Aggies, they fought the whole game tonight. We got outplayed. It happens."
A&M couldn't find an answer for the Wildcats' Whitney Billings and Ashley Frazier, who had 17 and 14 kills, respectively, and hit a combined .448. And although Kentucky posted only four aces, A&M struggled with the Wildcats' effective serve, which contributed to the Aggies being outhit, .309 to .161 in the match.
"Serving was really all to more than I was expecting," Corbelli said. "Very aggressive. They did a great job of taking us out of system and maybe (did) the best job of any team we've seen all year."
Other than the first point, Kentucky never trailed in the opening set, outhitting A&M .441 to .207 en route to the 25-18 win. The Aggies were within 15-12 when UK went on a 4-1 run to build a 19-13 lead. A&M got within 20-16 following a kill by senior captain Kelsey Black and an ace by senior middle blocker Elise Hendrickson. UK countered with three unanswered points to go up, 23-16, and the teams then traded points for the remainder of the stanza with Frazier putting down her fifth kill to clinch the set.
"I felt their serving took us a little out of rhythm, obviously our passing rhythm, and kept us from really getting our team attacking going," Corbelli said when asked about the first set. "We're very dependent on team attacking. We can't go 1-on-6 with many teams, but we kept fighting to get into our tempo. I saw glimpses of it, and I was pleased because we weren't making many errors. They just played great defense, they were in the right spots. They just played better than us."
A&M scored three unanswered points to take a 9-7 lead in the second set and stayed in the lead until Kentucky went on a 5-1 surge to go up 17-16. The teams exchanged points before a UK attack error and an Alisia Kastmo kill returned the lead to the Aggies, 20-19. The lead was short lived as Billings blasted three consecutive kills to spark a 5-0 run that put the Wildcats at set point. A service error ended UK's run before Billings posted her eighth kill of the frame to end the set and give the Wildcats a 2-0 lead going into the intermission.
Kentucky appeared in control of the third set early on as A&M spotted the Wildcats a 13-8 lead before the Aggies began to rally. Junior middle blocker Lindsey Miller teamed with three different players for three consecutive blocks, and senior outside hitter Chelsea Ringel followed with a kill to put the Aggies within 13-12. A&M would later tie the score at 15 as KU was whistled for being in the net while attempting to block a Ringel attack. A&M tied the score two more times before Black and Miller blocked Billings to give the Aggies their first lead of the set, 18-17. Kentucky, however, scored the next two points with a kill and a block to regain the lead. Black posted her team-leading 11th kill to tie the score at 19-19, but that would be A&M's final point. The Wildcats closed out the set and the match with six unanswered points to advance.
Kentucky (28-5), which returns home to host the next two rounds in the Lexington, Kentucky Regional, outhit A&M .309 to .161 for the match and led in kills (51-34), assists (47-34), aces (4-2) and blocks (10.5 to 7).
Black was the only A&M player to reach double figures in kills with 11. Setter Allie Sawatzky finished with 26 assists, and libero Megan Pendergast led the Aggies with 11 digs.
The Aggies finish the season 23-8, marking the most wins since 2003 when A&M went 23-10 and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.
The end of the season also marks the end of the collegiate careers of five A&M seniors, including four-year letterwinners Black and Ringel. Transfers Sarah Grace and Hendrickson wrap up two-year careers with the Aggies, and Cinthya Roberto, who transferred from Florida for her final season, also completes her collegiate career.
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