A&M, which leads the Southeastern Conference Western Division with a 12-4 mark, improves to 20-5 overall, marking the 14th time in head coach Laurie Corbelli's 20-year A&M tenure the Aggies have reached the 20-win milestone.
A&M senior opposite Alisia Kastmo tied for match-high honors with 17 kills and completed a double-double by adding 11 digs to lead A&M to the victory. Senior outside hitter Tori Mellinger (13 kills, 14 digs) and junior setter Allie Sawatzky (41 assists, 10 digs), the reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Week, also posted double-doubles as A&M made late comebacks in the second and fourth sets to win the match.
There were eight ties early in the opening set before A&M scored three unanswered points to take a 13-10 lead. The Aggies, led by Mellinger's six kills, led the rest of the set, although Auburn got within 22-20 after consecutive A&M attack errors. Mellinger then got a kill and followed with an ace to put the Aggies at set point, 24-20. The Tigers staved off one set point, tipping the ball in for a kill, but Stephanie Minnerly and Sierra Patrick blocked Auburn's next attack attempt to clinch the winning point.
Auburn had the hot hand early in the second set, but the Maroon and White would be on top at the end. The Tigers used a 7-0 run to break away from a 1-1 tie and built their biggest lead at 8-1. The Aggies would claw their way back, getting within a point at 19-18 following a back-row kill by Kastmo and an ace by Sawatzky. A&M was unable to take the lead as the Tigers later used a 4-1 run to be serving for the set at 24-20. Kastmo came through with a kill to keep the Aggies alive, and Auburn couldn't find the court on the next three plays, hitting long, hitting wide and hitting into a block by Sawatzky and Lindsey Miller, which tied the set at 24-24. Miller then gave the Aggies their first lead of the frame with a kill, and Kastmo closed out the comeback with a set-winning ace.
The roles were somewhat reversed in the third set as A&M jumped out to an 8-1 advantage but was unable to hold the lead as Auburn came back to win the set. The Tigers had cut the margin to 14-12 and then scored five unanswered points to take their first lead. Auburn went on to build its largest lead at 21-17, but a kill by Miller on the slide attack and a kill by Mellinger put A&M within 21-19. Auburn countered with a kill and an ace to go up 23-19 and later was at set point, 24-20, equaling its largest lead. The Tigers then served into the net and hit wide on the following two plays to put the Aggies within 24-22 before Camila Jersonsky put down her sixth kill of the stanza to close out the win for the Tigers and prevent another late A&M comeback win.
There were 12 ties and four lead changes in the fourth set. The Tigers used a 5-1 fun to equal their largest lead at 14-11 before a kill by Kastmo started a three-point run for the Aggies, tying the score at 14. A&M tied the score again at 15-15 on another Kastmo kill, but Auburn killed an A&M overpass and then got a huge stuff block to put the Tigers up, 17-15. Kastmo then posted one of her seven kills in the set, and libero Megan Pendergast, who led all players with 16 digs, strategically set the ball over to a wide open corner in the Auburn backcourt for a kill to knot the score at 17-17.
Miller and Sawatzky gave the Aggies the lead on the next play with a block. A&M continued to build on its lead, stretching its run to seven consecutive points for a 22-17 advantage. But then the Tigers rallied, scoring five unanswered points to tie the score at 22-22. Miller posted a kill, but A&M hit long on the next play to keep the set tied at 23-23. Mellinger then got a kill from the right side to put the Aggies at set point. Auburn, which was outhit in the match, .205 to .188, but led the Aggies in kills, 61-54, hit long on the final play, giving A&M the win.
Jersonsky led the Tigers with 17 kills. Sarah Bullock and Katherine Culwell, who were both teammates with Mellinger on the Skyline Juniors team that took second at the 2008 USA Volleyball Junior National Championships, finished with 13 and 12 kills, respectively.
A&M, which improved to 8-1 in away matches, finished with 11 blocks, a season high in a four-set match, as Sawatzky tied her career high with five block assists and Minnerly and Miller also had five block assists apiece. A&M also finished with seven aces, including three by Sawatzky.
The Aggies continue their road swing as they take on Georgia for the first time as SEC foes on Sunday in Athens. The match against the Bulldogs begins at 1 p.m. (CT) and will be televised by Comcast/Cox.
Texas A&M Post-Match Quotes
Coach Laurie Corbelli
(On the difference in the match)
I honestly think we made fewer unforced errors than they did at critical times. I thought it was even across the board in so many areas of the game, but in the end they kind of shot themselves in the foot. We settled down pretty well in set 4 and were able to get a pretty good lead, and just to give it up and not panic after they scored a run of three or four. Sometimes like set 3, we panicked and kind of held back. I was proud that we played with some guts there at the end and went ahead and got the win on the road. I thought that they made some errors that really hurt them.
(On the comeback in Set 2)
I was really proud of that one. We talked a lot about this match, and we wanted to have a gutsy performance, because we knew it was going to be really tough. That was a perfect example. At the break, I told the team, 'wow, that's one of the gutsier things I've seen you guys do is keep chipping back at the other team and making some gutsy plays.' I thought the adjustments we made, we started trying to attack a little bit more from other areas that we had been attacking, because they did a beautiful job of defending everything we had to throw at them. So we tried to mix it up a little bit more, and they adjusted very quickly. That is one thing they do really well is make quick adjustments. I liked how united we were on the court to get back together and believe they could win set 2. That was one of the biggest comebacks we have had in a long time. I was really proud how gutsy it was.
(On reaching 20 wins)
In a high-level Division I to get 20 wins, I'm really proud of that. We worked really hard for it. The team worked incredibly hard. They are so committed and disciplined that to get that 20th win, I feel like I can just let out a big sigh. I'm really proud, and it's really cool.
(On winning on the road)
I'm very pleased that we are able to go into new gyms that we've got to go in and win, and we are, and that is feeling really nice. I haven't had a team that has been so consistent on the road in a long, long time, and I credit a lot of that to our setter, (Allie) Sawatzky, who is so consistent and dedicated to our game plan and to doing what she is asked to do and handling it so even-keeled and so strong. She is just a huge part of our squad, and (Alisia) Kastmo usually comes through when we need her. Whether she has a slow start or a great start, she'll come through in the end. She believes that, and the team knows that, so those two have been very helpful in many ways in helping us win on the road.