DENTON, Texas - Middle blocker Kaitlyn Blake had a career-high 13 blocks and added 12 kills while hitting .455 to help lead No. 16 Texas A&M to a 25-21, 23-25, 28-26, 25-19 victory over North Texas.
It was the first double-double for the sophomore who hails from nearby Allen, Texas, and was selected to the all-tournament team. Blake was joined on the all-tournament team by Aggie setter Stephanie Aiple, who dished out 49 assists and averaged 11 assists per set throughout the tournament as Texas A&M improved to 2-1.
The Aggies, who only a few hours earlier had dropped a grueling five-set match to 15th-ranked and tournament-champion Ohio State, were somewhat sluggish at the start as the Mean Green jumped out to an 11-7 lead in the opening set, forcing Texas A&M to call a timeout and regroup. The Aggies then reeled off five unanswered points to take a 12-11 lead. UNT called its first timeout and followed with three consecutive points to go up 14-12.
Texas A&M managed to tie the score at 17-17 and again at 20-20 before a solo block by Blake put the Aggies up, 21-20. It was part of a five-point swing that put Texas A&M serving for the set, 24-20, with Blake playing a part in four blocks during the stretch. UNT ended the rally with a block, but Blake answered with the set-winning kill.
North Texas never trailed in the second set and matched its biggest margin at 15-9. The Maroon and White chipped away at the lead and managed to tie the score at 21- and 22-all, but the Mean Green went on to win the set, 25-23, to even the match at a set apiece.
North Texas held a 19-16 advantage in the third set before Texas A&M scored four consecutive points, including back-to-back aces by junior defensive specialist Gabby Litwin that gave the Aggies their first lead, 20-19. North Texas then outscored A&M 5-2 to take a 24-22 lead. In a furious finish, A&M fought off two set points behind a kill by freshman outside hitter Kiana Peroff, who was making her career debut, followed by junior outside hitter Kiara McGee's kill off the block. Aiple then got a dump kill to put the Aggies at set point, 25-24, but UNT got a kill and an ace to once again be serving for the set, 26-25. Senior middle blocker Jazzmin Babers put down a UNT overpass for a kill to knot the score for the seventh time in the frame, and the Mean Green hit wide on the ensuing play to return the lead to Texas A&M, 27-26. Blake and Aiple then ended the set, teaming for a block to secure the 28-26 win and giving the Aggies a 2-1 lead in the match.
A kill off the block by junior opposite hitter Ashlie Reasor followed by Peroff's putdown of an UNT overpass gave Texas A&M a 5-4 lead in the fourth. The Aggies would never trail the remainder of the set.
The Mean Green tied the score four times, the last coming at 9-9 before Blake got a kill on the slide attack and Reasor followed with back-to-back kills to put A&M up, 12-9. UNT got within a point five times, the last coming at 18-17. The Mean Green then served into the net, and A&M followed with two blocks and a kill to build a 22-17 cushion. UNT got a kill to end the 4-0 run, but a kill by Reasor and an ace by senior defensive specialist Katelyn Labhart put the Aggies at match point, 24-18. UNT stayed alive with a kill before Reasor's cross-court kill sealed the victory for the Aggies.
McGee tied for match-high honors with a team-leading 16 kills. Babers finished with 13 kills, and Reasor added 12 kills as A&M had a 61-51 advantage in team kills and outhit the Mean Green, .216 to .189.
Junior libero Amy Nettles led the Aggies in digs with 13, helping A&M to a 58-48 lead in team digs. A&M also outblocked UNT, 16.5 to 9.
Holly Milam led North Texas with 16 kills but was held to a .140 hitting efficiency.
Texas A&M, which plays its first 10 matches away from home, hits the road again next week as the Aggies compete in the Puerto Rico Classico. A&M will face No. 17 Florida State on Thursday, No. 3 Minnesota on Friday and Virginia Tech on Saturday.
Texas A&M Head Coach Laurie Corbelli quotes:
On her overall thoughts on today's matches... "It's so tough to play two matches back to back. We are looking at four-and-a-half to five hours of jumping, going to the ground and swinging in a fast-paced, high-intensity game. There is no question that fatigue was a little bit of it, but I believe mentally we also had some fatigue that showed up in our game tonight. I think the team saw that and really was fighting to not have that happen, to not let us have a mental let up. I thought Gabby Litwin came in and started really putting some pace on her serves. For the most part, I thought the rest of the night we weren't serving nearly as well or as hard as we do every day in practice, and that put them in system the whole time and it made it so tough for us to defend.
"I thought it was great crowd. It was a team that had nothing to lose. We got their best game I believe, and we found a way to win. That is the thing I am the most proud of and most excited about the team. Also, it so clearly showed our weaknesses so we know exactly what we need to get back to the gym and work on and fix."
On what she learned in the Ohio State and North Texas matches... "We were able to come up with a couple new looks in our serve receive formation to try to ease the pressure that teams are putting on our outside hitters that are front row and attacking. I think that was nice. Getting [Kaitlyn] Blake more areas to hit, we set her some high 2's, and some high back sets--she loves to hit those high ones--so that's nice. I think that's what these first two days of season are about, really finding what else our players can do at match time when necessary based on what other teams are doing against us. We know we are going to be a whole lot better each week. We were lucky to come out here and get the second match with a win, we were really lucky. We were struggling big time in that match tonight, so I am just really glad we got through that one. The players faced adversity, and they really had their minds set on battling that adversity and not letting it get the best of us."
On getting freshmen Kiana Peroff and Hollann Hans court time... "I really wanted to get some freshmen on the floor and let them get some swings and get into game mode. I thought they did a really nice job. Kianna [Peroff], being from Hawaii, has played the game her whole life. She is comfortable on the court, left side or right side, and just has a real nice approach to her game. She brought that calmness and consistency we knew we were going to get from her, and that's just really a great thing for a coach to be able to have that kind of reliability in a player. I think Hollann [Hans] was ready to go up and beat on some balls. When she went in it was at a time that the team was kind of stressed, and she only got some out-of-system sets that were not able to maximize her ability and get her a good rhythm that made circumstances tough when she went out there today."
On seeing former Aggie volleyball players in the stands supporting the team..."It has been fun because so many of them live in the DFW area now, (Jenna) Moscovic and (Amber) Woolsey, both Texas A&M Athletic Hall of Famers. (Robyn) Burkhardt, a two-sport athlete and now mother of three, and Hannah Hood were here. Alisia Kastmo was here. It's so much fun to see them and watch them support the program, plus they get to get out on a Saturday night, which they typically don't get to do because they are parents. It was really fun."
On her thoughts on the upcoming Puerto Rico tournament... "We are going to have to make sure we have our depth ready, because we have a lot of players, and we have a lot of good players. The starters have to really keep their game at a high level because they can, and if not we plan on using more and more of the non-starters, fresh legs so to speak to help us get through those matches. It will test us in a more intense way than we have faced yet. It's going to be really tough.
Her final thoughts on the weekend... "It was a good opening tournament for us. I'm still a little sick to my stomach for the two-point loss to Ohio State. I think the team is, too. I think there are lessons in that and maybe they are speaking louder to us because we didn't close it out. We'll make something good come from it."