It was the eighth consecutive victory for the Aggies, who improve to 23-5 overall and 15-4 in SEC matches. Tennessee, which also entered the match riding a seven-match win streak, falls to 21-7, 14-5.
Junior setter Allie Sawatzky dished out a career-high 66 assists as four A&M players posted double figures in kills. Alisia Kastmo led the Aggies with 18 kills, and Lindsey Miller pitched in a season-high 17 kills while hitting at a .593 clip. Tori Mellinger had 13 kills, and freshman Shelby Sullivan came off the bench to contribute a career-high 11 kills while hitting .494 in the win.
The Aggies got off to a slow start and were out of sync in the opening set as Tennessee led the entire frame, outhitting the Aggies .387 to .077, to pull away for the 25-15 win.
Unlike the first set, the second set turned into a back-and-forth battle that saw 15 ties and seven lead changes with the Aggies prevailing, 25-22. The Lady Vols held an 18-17 lead after notching two consecutive kills, but a service error and two kills by Kastmo gave the Aggies what was then their largest lead at 20-18. Tennessee called a timeout and came back with a kill and a block to tie the score at 20-20. Kastmo then got a kill, tipping the ball to the sideline, and Tennessee hit wide on the ensuing play to put A&M up 22-20 and force another Tennessee timeout.
A&M had one of its season-high 12 service errors in the match and its third of the set coming out of the timeout, but Kastmo hammered a kill through the Tennessee block on the next play to put A&M up, 23-21. A&M had another crucial service error, but Kastmo tooled the block for a kill on the next play. She then had a well-placed tip attack from the back row, and the ball fell untouched to the center of the Tennessee court for the set-winning kill.
Kastmo, who had three kills in the first set, posted seven kills in the second set and scored three of the last four points in the stanza for the 25-22 win that tied the match at 1-1.
A&M jumped out to 5-0 lead to start the third set, including a dig by Sawatzky that fell in for a kill. The lucky play was an indicator of how the set would go, as the Aggies outhit the Lady Vols, .471 to .229 en route to the win. A&M continued to widen the gap and used a 3-0 run to build its largest lead at 18-11. The teams exchanged sideouts, with A&M’s Sierra Patrick also getting a dig to fall for a kill to put A&M up 22-15. The Lady Vols then got a kill and a stuff block to get within 22-17, but Kastmo countered with a cross-court kill to the back corner and Miller and Sawatzky followed with a block to put the Aggies at set point. Tennessee fought off three set points before Kastmo got a kill following an A&M timeout to clinch the win and give the Aggies a 2-1 lead in the match.
Both teams fought off set points in the fourth set, which would have 17 ties and nine lead changes. Tennessee forged to a 17-12 advantage following a 7-1 run, but Miller had two blocks and two kills in a 5-0 surge by A&M that tied the score at 17-all. A&M would later regain the lead at 19-18 as Heather Reynolds made a play-saving dig that led to a Mellinger kill. The momentum quickly shifted back to Tennessee, however, as the Lady Vols scored six of the next seven points to be serving for the set, 24-20.
Mellinger kept the Aggies alive, blasting a kill to a wide-open center court, and Kastmo followed with a tip kill. Tennessee then hit long, and an ace by Sawatzky knotted the score at 25-25. Tennessee went up, 26-25, but Kastmo tipped the ball in for a kill and Patrick followed with a kill that put A&M at set and match point. Tennessee rallied once again, getting two kills to take a 28-27 lead. A&M then hit long on the next play to give the Lady Vols a 29-27 win and force a decisive fifth set.
Tennessee held a narrow 5-4 lead in the final stanza when Miller took over at the net, posting a kill on the slide attack which began a 6-1 run by the Aggies. Miller, who was five-for five in attack attempts and led A&M to a .318 to .095 hitting percentage in the set, had four kills and a block during the rally that put the Aggies up, 10-6. A&M hit wide on the next play, but Sullivan got a kill and Tennessee hit wide to put the Aggies ahead, 12-7. Tennessee put down a kill on an A&M overpass, but Sullivan answered with a kill to keep the five-point lead for the Aggies and force a Tennessee timeout. The Lady Vols got a kill coming out of the timeout, and A&M called its first timeout leading 13-9. Kastmo got a kill coming out the timeout, putting the Aggies at match point. Miller and Patrick then clinched the crucial victory with a block.
A&M finished with a season-high 77 kills while hitting .282. Tennessee had 64 kills and hit .251 in the loss. The Lady Vols outblocked A&M, 13-10.
Libero Megan Pendergast led A&M’s back row defense with a match-high 22 digs. Kastmo and Mellinger completed double-doubles as they finished with 12 digs each, and Reynolds had 11 digs.
Miller led A&M and tied her season high with seven blocks and also led A&M players with a personal season-high 20.5 points.
Kelsey Robinson led Tennessee with 18 kills.
The Aggies conclude the regular season at Ole Miss, Friday at 7 p.m. at the Gillom Sports Center in Oxford, Miss. Free live audio of the match will be available at AggieAthletics.com.
The 64-team NCAA Championship bracket will be announced Sunday, Nov. 25 at 3 p.m. on ESPNU.
Texas A&M post-match quotes:
Head Coach Laurie Corbelli
(on why this was a big win)
I don't think I've ever beaten Tennessee in my career, so for me it was really huge. It was big because it put us in second place in the SEC overall. It was big because we were on the road going up against a team that beat us 3-0 at our place. It was really big because it gives us great momentum going into not only our final match of the regular season, but also going into the NCAA tournament. And just for what it means about the team, how we recomposed ourselves after the first set, which was really pretty ugly. Not one kid had worry in her eyes or a look of doubt. From there on out, I was just so proud how they worked so hard as a team. Their goal was to out-team Tennessee. I don't know if we out-teamed them, but we certainly played as well as a team as we have all year when it counted. It was just huge in so many different ways.
(on the changes and adjustments after first set)
We just did a lot of giving them confidence and emphasizing things that we had not been using that have worked for us all year and to trust in that. I thought Allie Sawatzky did a great job of distributing the ball. I thought early that our passing was a little bit off, and our setting was just enough off to make our hitters not as effective. Once we recognized that she needed to make a couple of slight adjustments in her release and her finish to be able to get the ball into a hot spot for the hitters, then the hitters just started going off. Maybe those were some slight adjustments, but as a team, not really very many (adjustments were made). In fact, we could not stop Robinson or Harrison. Both of those two were phenomenal. We tried different defenses against them, and they did a beautiful job.
It was very well distributed, and I thought Allie Sawatzky was a big part of that. She really did trust that she was in position to be able to get the ball to any one of her available attackers. Many time setters take themselves out of it by their position, and she has been working really hard at getting great position before her release and being able to feed her hitters a much more accurate set. I thought our passing, too, was just really, really good. Once we got the hang of their serving, which I think they maybe missed only one or two a set. We missed more serves this match than we have missed in the last two weeks in matches. I think that really threw off our team to some degree more than any other thing. They were all going out long, yet they didn't want to take much off of it because they wanted to stay aggressive. There was a little bit of a difficult time there where they weren't sure how much to make an adjustment on the serving, so we just told them to stay aggressive. We have good enough blocking and defense and passing that we knew we could come through, so we wanted them to stay aggressive for sure.
(on overcoming the 12 service errors)
That is really when a lot of times you see the state of emotion of your team is with the serving and passing. When I saw we were missing serves early, I was a little concerned. I knew that my job would be to try and calm them down and give them some confidence, because if you don't have those two things, you can't change your serving very easily, especially when we are trying to be aggressive and trying to go at certain spots. We keep reminding our team what a great serving team we are and have been, and it is not going to end up making us lose. Don't worry about it. Just serve hard and serve well. We are going to miss some, and this happened to be the match that we missed a lot, but we still managed to come out on top.
(on how this win helps to get a host site for NCAAs)
It's really hard to know. I kind of have quit trying to guess what they are going to decide, but if anything, I think it should secure us a better and better first and second round, higher seeding or better placement in the bracket. We can only help ourselves by winning.
(On Ole Miss)
It's nice that we are on the road because we are pretty successful on the road, but it is a little bit scary given it is the last match of the season. Coming off a big win, there is always that traditional letdown that teams tend to have. I'm not sure this group really has that in them. We may see signs of it early in the match, but I really feel like they've got the momentum and that they are experienced enough and driven enough that they have to understand that they've got to have themselves really focused and really ready, and I believe that we will be.