COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M used a balanced attack to earn a 25-22, 25-18, 25-21 sweep over Alabama in front of a boisterous crowd of 2,782 at Reed Arena.
A&M hit above .400 for the second time in a Southeastern Conference match this season, outhitting the Crimson Tide .429 to .209 to improve to 11-6 overall, 4-2 in conference matches and 6-1 at home. Sophomore setter Stephanie Aiple directed the Aggies' efficient offense, dishing out 45 assists, the most by an A&M player in a three-set match this season.
Senior middle blocker Shelby Sullivan and sophomore opposite hitter Ashlie Reasor led the A&M attack, each hitting .526 while connecting on 12 kills apiece. Junior middle blocker Jazzmin Babers added nine kills, outside hitters Emily Hardesty and Kiara McGee pitched in eight kills apiece, and Aiple was three-for-three in attack attempts as A&M posted 52 kills to Alabama's 41.
Defensively, Hardesty led all players with 14 digs, and sophomore libero Amy Nettles also posted double-figure digs with 10 to lead the Aggies to a 44-32 advantage in digs. Sullivan had a match-high six blocks to lead A&M to a 9-7 lead in blocks.
Alabama, picked to finish second in the league according to a preseason poll of the conference head coaches, falls to 8-11 overall and 2-3 in SEC matches. Krystal Rivers led the Tide with 13 kills, and Brittany Thomas added 10 kills. Natalie Murison led Alabama in digs with 11.
There were 16 ties and seven lead changes in the opening set. A&M used a 4-0 run to build its largest lead at 16-13, but Alabama countered with a 4-0 spurt to regain the lead, 17-16. Sullivan returned the lead to A&M, posting two of her seven kills in the frame and teaming with Hardesty for a block during a 3-0 rally to put A&M ahead, 19-17. Alabama managed to tie the score two more times, the last coming at 22-22 before Babers got a kill on the slide attack and Reasor followed with a kill to put the Maroon and White at set point. Babers and Hardesty then blocked a Rivers attack attempt to secure the 25-22 win.
A&M used a 9-2 run to build a 12-6 lead in the second set. The Aggies, who outhit Alabama .481 to .111 in the stanza, later built their largest lead at 17-10 as Hardesty tipped the ball over the Alabama block for a kill. The Tide could get no closer than four points and trailed 21-17 when Reasor put down a kill and Alabama hit long on each of the next two plays to put the Aggies at set point, 24-17. Rivers got a kill before Sullivan closed out the frame with a kill, giving A&M a 2-0 lead in the match.
Other than a 1-1 tie, A&M led the entire third set, outhitting the Tide, .463 to .279. The Aggies used a 6-1 run to break away from the tie, and Alabama was unable to get closer than two points throughout the remainder of the match. The Aggies were up 20-16 when Babers crafted a kill off the Tide block, and Reasor followed with a deadly off-speed shot to put A&M up, 22-16. A long rally ensued on the following play before Sullivan and Reasor stuff blocked Thomas to end the play. A&M then served long, but Sullivan returned serve to the Aggies, tooling the Tide block for a kill that put A&M up, 24-17, and serving for the match. Alabama fought off four match points before Hardesty clinched the victory with a kill.
The Aggies return to Reed Sunday to play host to the Mississippi State Bulldogs. First serve is at 1:30 p.m. It will be "Military Appreciation Day" and all active or retired military personnel receive free admission.
Texas A&M post-match quotes:
Texas A&M Head Coach Laurie Corbelli
Opening statement ... "The thing that stands out for me the most is that the team followed through with their assignments to a T and we finished. We didn't linger. We recovered from failure really well. Better than I've ever seen them, the team blew it off and was able to move on. That was a real significant difference, in my mind, for the team to be able to perform the way they did."
On the team's defensive performance... "It all starts with our serving. I really feel like we are hitting the spots we want to hit to make it as difficult as possible for them to get the set they want. We've just been hammering them [in practice] with blocking work and defensive work. Our defense was really clicking tonight. I think the times [Alabama] scored on our blocks were good scores. We didn't let it bother us. We just tried to make a change and went about our way. I was really ready to see that from the team."
Senior middle blocker Shelby Sullivan
On tonight's performance... "It was a good team win for sure. Before the game we had a great talk by Angela [Lowak], and she said just focus on representing Texas A&M, and we get the opportunity to play out there. It was a great 12th Man crowd tonight, so it was a lot of fun to play. It was a great win, good balanced attack."
On preparing for the match... "This week we started on Monday, focusing on beating Bama. It's one game at a time. Any team in the SEC can have a great night, and we knew we'd have a great night because we're taking it one at a time and just game by game. We really focused on what we did in practice and transitioning it over to the game."