FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Texas A&M dropped the first set in a
crucial showdown at Arkansas, but the Aggies came back to win the match, 21-25,
25-15, 25-16, 23-25, 15-3, tonight at Barnhill Arena and take a two-game lead atop
the Southeastern Conference Western Division.
It was the fifth consecutive win for the Aggies, who improve
to 15-2 overall and 7-1 in the SEC. Arkansas, which was looking to tie A&M
for the division lead, falls to 14-5 overall and 5-3 in league play.
After the first four sets were back and forth and never totally
decided until the final point, the Aggies scored the first five points and were
in total command in the fifth set. A&M, which outhit the Razorbacks, .417
to -.263 in the frame and .245 to .087 for the match, later went on an 8-0 run
as Arkansas couldn't find the court and A&M couldn't miss. Back-to-back
kills by Lindsey Miller put the Aggies at set point, 14-2. Arkansas staved off
one match point with a kill but then hit long for the final point as A&M
clinch the victory in the first-ever meeting between the two programs.
"This is just a tough weekend overall, so to win the first
one on the road and to play really well most of the time was really huge for us,"
A&M coach Laurie Corbelli said. "We are trying to keep our momentum going.
We want to continue to build on the things we've been doing, and I thought we did
that performance-wise tonight, so I was pleased with that."
A&M found itself in a hole early in the opening set as
Arkansas pulled away from a 5-5 tie, scoring runs of point to build a 19-11
lead. The Aggies would make a late run behind the blocking of Stephanie
Minnerly, who had three stuffs during a 6-1 rally that put A&M within
22-20. Despite nine kills in the set by Alisia Kastmo, the Aggies could get no
closer and trailed 23-21 when Arkansas got a kill high off the block and A&M
followed with an attack that went into the net. It marked only the second time
this season A&M dropped the opening set. The only other time, the Aggies
fell to Kentucky in five sets.
"We struggled with our passing early, and I get that,"
Corbelli said. "We are on the road; we are in a new facility. They were serving
bullets at us, but we kept at it and kept fighting really hard with our
passing. We were really, really working hard to improve every single pass, and
once we did that, we stayed with them. We were able to successfully pass to the
target, which got us into rhythm and resulted in the win."
A&M scored the first seven points of the second set and
built its biggest lead at 15-5 when Arkansas mounted a comeback. The Razorbacks
scored six unanswered points to get within 15-11, but that would be as close as
they would get. Leading 19-14, Aggie freshman Shelbi Vaughan had two kills
during a 5-0 rally that put the Aggies at set point. Arkansas had a kill before
Miller put down a kill on the slide attack to even the match at a set apiece.
A&M scored three straight points early in the third set
to go up 5-3 and build a lead it would not lose. The Aggies continued to widen the
gap and were leading 22-15 when Tori Mellinger had a kill and setter Allie
Sawatzky followed with an ace to put A&M up, 24-15. Arkansas posted a kill,
but on the ensuing play was whistled for a blocking error on a Minnerly attack that
had sailed long.
Arkansas used a 6-0 run to build a 15-8 lead in the fourth
set. The Razorbacks would go on to build their largest lead at 21-13 before
A&M mounted a comeback. Trailing 23-16, A&M reeled off six unanswered
points to get within a point. Arkansas ended the run with a kill, but Kastmo
answered with a straight-down kill out of the middle. Jasmine Norton then put
down her seventh kill of the set to clinch the winning point for the Razorbacks
and force the fifth set.
Kastmo tied her career high with 21 kills while hitting
.341, and Minnerly had a career-high eight blocks as A&M had a season-high
15 for the match, while Arkansas had only six. Mellinger had 11 kills and 11
digs for her sixth double-double of the season, and Sawatzky had 48 assists and
10 digs for her sixth double-double. Megan Pendergast led all players with 19
digs, and Kelsey Kinley pitched in 12 digs.
"There were a lot of people who did some great things,"
Corbelli said. "Stephanie Minnerly carried through her responsibilities so
beautifully and I couldn't be more proud of her. She's just a joy to have on
the court, and I always trust that she is going to do her best to get the
specifics of her job done.
"Allie Sawatzky did a beautiful job distributing the ball,
and Kastmo, no one could stop her. She had some pretty incredible runs there
other than a little bit of a lull in set four, but she turned it around and
came back and got hot again and was unstoppable."
Vaughan, who came off the bench in four sets, sparked the
Aggies with career highs of eight kills and three blocks. Corbelli also got key
off-the-bench contributions from freshmen Shelby Sullivan and Angela Lowak.
"It was really fun to have Sullivan, Lowak and Vaughan go
in," Corbelli said. "They are very confident. They are phenomenal players, and
it is so nice to be able to have that depth that is young and spirited and
really doesn't know any better. They just go out and play hard, and they are so
good at what they do. They are kind of my secret weapons in a way. I know what
they have to offer, but I don't use them unless I feel like it is a good time
to put them out there, and I can always count on them and it is wonderful."
A&M now faces a rematch against Kentucky on Sunday in
Lexington. The Wildcats have won the last two meetings against the Aggies, a
3-0 victory in the second round of the 2011 NCAA Championship, and a 3-2 win at
A&M earlier this season, marking A&M's only SEC loss this season.
"Kentucky is so strong and for them to be at home, wow, it
is just going to be an awesome match," Corbelli said. "We've played them twice.
They beat us twice. Eventually it is going to go our way, and I just trust that
my team is going to work its hardest to get it done. It certainly won't be
easy, but if we can get that one, it will be an absolutely a huge win for us."
First serve is at 12:30 p.m. (CT) and live audio of the
match will be available free at 12thMan.TV.