COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Texas A&M capped the regular season and celebrated Senior Day with a 25-22, 25-6, 25-18 victory over South Carolina this afternoon at Reed Arena.
It was the seventh victory in the last eight outings for the Aggies, who improve to 18-11 overall and finish 10-8 in Southeastern Conference matches. South Carolina ends its season 12-19 overall, 3-15 in SEC play.
For the Aggie seniors -- Mariah Agre, Kelsey Kinley, Heather Reynolds, Allie Sawatzky and Ashley Vrana – it was their last opportunity to play in front of the home crowd 12th Man, but they hope to don the maroon and white again next week. With A&M listed No. 32 in the NCAA Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), the Aggies are keeping their fingers crossed that they will hear their name called when the 64-team NCAA tournament bracket is announced Sunday at 8:30 p.m. on ESPNU.
To bolster their postseason chances, the Aggies knew they needed to defeat South Carolina, a team that entered today’s contest having lost its last nine conference matches but had upset A&M earlier this season at South Carolina. The match got off to an ugly start, with the Gamecocks using a 7-1 run to take an 18-17 lead in the opening set. After exchanging points and tying the score three times, A&M managed to regain the lead at 21-20 as sophomore middle blocker Shelby Sullivan was successful on a slide attack. Sarah Blomgren evened the score for the Gamecocks with a kill, but sophomore outside hitter Angela Lowak split the South Carolina block with her next attack to put the Aggies back on top, 22-21.
A&M, which outhit South Carolina .163 to .111 in the frame, maintained a 23-22 edge when redshirt freshman middle blocker Jazzmin Babers killed a Sawatzky back set to put the Aggies at set point. Babers then teamed with sophomore opposite hitter Sierra Patrick to block a South Carolina attack to close out the set.
South Carolina held a narrow 4-3 lead to open the second set before A&M erupted with seven unanswered points to go up 10-4. A cross-court kill by Blomgren only temporarily stopped the streaking Aggies, who then reeled off seven more points to surge to a 17-5 lead. After a South Carolina kill, A&M then ran the table, scoring eight consecutive points to end the set, 25-6, and take a 2-0 lead in the match.
The Gamecocks’ six points was the fewest allowed in a set this season by the Aggies, who outhit South Carolina, .577 to -.065 in the frame, posting 15 kills while allowing only five.
After the break, A&M continued where it left off, scoring the first seven points of the third set, marking 15 consecutive points for the Aggies going back to the second set. South Carolina rallied and got within 7-5, but the Aggies countered with six straight points to go up 13-5. The Gamecocks never got closer than four points for the remainder of the set, as they were outhit .300 to .083.
A South Carolina attack error into the net put the Aggies at match point, 24-28. A&M served into the net on the next play before freshman Darby Graff put down the match-clinching kill.
Vrana and Lowak tied for match-high honors in kills with 10 apiece. Sullivan finished with nine kills with no errors in 13 attempts for a .692 hitting percentage as A&M outhit the Gamecocks, .312 to .054 for the match and led in kills, 45-28.
Reynolds and Sawatzky led the Aggies in digs with 10 each, and Sawatzky also dished out 29 assists to tally her conference-leading 20th double-double. Babers led all players with four blocks.
Juliette Thevenin, the SEC leader in kills and points per set, led South Carolina with nine kills in the final match of her Gamecock career.
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Texas A&M Quotes:
Head Coach Laurie Corbelli:
(On the team’s slow start in the first set)
“It was a combination of a lot of things. I think it’s a combination of last home match, senior night, had to win, hopes for a berth in the tournament and all the uncertainty with that. It just really felt nerve racking to put it lightly. It was just a really emotional first set with a lot of things going through a lot of heads. It made it difficult to focus.”
(On the team getting focused)
“I knew that it would come. I think that we were just trying to think of ways to urge that to happen. I thought that Heather [Reynolds] seemed a little bit less emotional than the others for whatever reason in my opinion. Or she just faked it really well. I thought that it just took some time for us to settle in, that’s all. The nerves were sharp and we weren’t. It felt like we got our blocking going. Even though they may not have produced kill blocks, there was a better team block that our defense could work around.”
(On the third set)
“It was kind of exchanging errors at that time. For parts of it, we just gave them a few, they’d give us a few. But then I do think that both teams settled in a little bit. I didn’t feel like we got into our rhythm quite like we have been lately, even on the road. I didn’t feel like we were ‘in our rhythm’ for whatever reasons, but we were still able to find ways to get 45 kills and only make 11 errors. I think the first set we made seven of those.
(On postseason chances)
“It’s a national selection committee. There are many things they consider. We always think as coaches that we know what they should consider the most, but it never is right. It never is what they’re doing. They have their reasons, and we just have to sit patiently and see if they select us. I try to think positive, but it won’t change anything no matter how I think.”
(On being deserving of a tournament selection)
“I think the body of work in the last month for us has been much improved; much improved over October. We just had some lapses. At the same time, there are teams all around the country that didn’t have lapses. They found ways to fight through but maybe didn’t have the same kind of schedule that we had. There are so many variables. That’s the part that has me really in question is what are they going to focus on the most. I think the run in November that we’ve made is fantastic. I think it’s heavily considered. I think having lots of tight matches against top teams says a lot. We’ll see.”
Senior Defensive Specialist Kelsey Kinley:
(On preparation for match)
I thought our locker room was about the same as normal. I just think that we wanted this game so badly. We wanted revenge. That’s probably the emotions Laurie [Corbelli] is talking about. We just wanted it so badly that we needed to just step back and calm down and just play our game.”
(On Heather Reynolds)
“Heather always keeps a level head. Some of us, we play different, and Heather plays a little more level headed. Some of us get a little more crazy, like goofy on the court. Heather, when she’s focused you can tell that she’s focused on the game and nothing else.”
(On the senior ceremony after the match)
“Hearing the last War Hymn made me tear up a lot. It was very emotional. It was a good way to end senior night with a win against them, especially since we wanted revenge.”
(On making postseason)
“Obviously we want to make the tournament. It’s in their hands, and hopefully it goes our way. I think that it shows a lot like Laurie [Corbelli] said that the last 10 matches that we’ve played, we’ve played extremely well. I hope that they look at that.”