COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M middle blockers Shelby Sullivan and Jazzmin Babers combined for 19 kills and a .586 hitting efficiency to lead the Aggies to a convincing 25-19, 25-18, 25-15 victory over Mississippi State today at Reed Arena.
It marked Texas A&M's third consecutive victory as the Aggies improved to 12-6, including 5-2 in Southeastern Conference matches. In addition, A&M improved to 5-0 in the all-time series against the Bulldogs, with all five victories being three-set sweeps.
Mississippi State falls to 13-8 overall and 3-5 in league play.
The Aggies, who entered the match with an SEC-leading .301 hitting percentage in conference matches, hit above .400 for the second straight match, outhitting the Bulldogs, .410 to .198. Babers hit 1.000, going 9-for-9 in attack attempts, and seven A&M players posted at least three kills apiece in the match with sophomore setter Stephanie Aiple directing the balanced offense with 31 assists.
Texas A&M sophomore libero Amy Nettles led all players with 14 digs, and Sullivan took team-high honors in blocks with three.
Other than an MSU ace to start out the match, A&M never trailed in the opening set. The Aggies, who outhit MSU, .419 to .312, in the frame, held a 10-8 advantaged before using a 9-3 run to build their largest lead at 19-11. The Bulldogs got back with five points at 22-17 following back-to-back kills but could get no closer as the teams traded points for the remainder of the set with Ashlie Reasor getting the setting-winning kill with a well-placed off-speed shot.
A&M began the second set with consecutive attack errors to give the Bulldogs a 2-0 lead, but two consecutive MSU miscues and a kill by Emily Hardesty gave the Aggies a 3-2 lead. MSU tied the score at 3-3 before A&M used a 3-0 spurt to take the lead for good. The Bulldogs, who were outhit .227 to .118, stayed within striking distance and trailed 17-14 when Nettles' dig fell in for a kill. Babers followed with a kill, and MSU hit wide on the following play as the Aggies started to pull away. The teams began to exchange points and the Aggies held a 23-18 lead when MSU committed one of its nine service errors of the match, putting A&M at set point. The Bulldogs then hit long on the final play to give A&M the 25-18 win and a 2-0 lead in the match.
A&M carried the momentum into the third set and jumped out to a 5-0 lead, including back-to-back kills following consecutive Mississippi State errant overpasses. The Aggies, who hit .533 in the set while holding MSU to a .160 hitting efficiency, later went on a 10-1 run to build a commanding 19-7 lead. The Bulldogs were unable to get closer than nine points, the last coming at 24-15 before freshman Kaitlyn Blake put down the match-winning kill.
The Aggies close out their three-match homestand on Wednesday as they play host to the LSU Tigers. First serve is slated for 7 p.m. at Reed Arena, and the match will be nationally televised on the SEC Network.
Texas A&M post-match quotes:
Texas A&M Head Coach Laurie Corbelli
On her impression of the match...
"I can honestly say I felt like our level of intensity was about half as much as we had the other night. Against a team like Mississippi State with such a fast offense, you have to be on top of your game to slow that down. I think our serving really helped us a lot. Our kids were getting more confident and aggressive, which helps slow down their offense. Our blocking, on the other hand, certainly did not, which I think throws off our kids sometimes. I was pleased to be up 6-1 [in the third set] mostly with Gabby Litwin serving and getting them out of system."
"I think finishing comes along with confidence and a good strong focus. We say it about each skill: finish your skill. I think they're really getting better at that with practice. I think it builds their confidence, because they're seeing more success. I hope it carries over into more and more sets."
"Aces are really important for your team because it can help your momentum, but so many times after an ace the server will go back and miss badly. There were some great rallies we had where we went back after winning those great rallies and missed serves. Everyone can feel like the bubble burst. The importance of serving is overlooked by a lot of coaches and players in our sport. They think it's just 'hit the ball over,' and there's so much more to it. It's a very individual skill and it can get into a lot of the kids' heads. It's tricky when you talk about serving during matches, because they can think about it too much and then you lose your serve. I think we're getting over the hump with our serving, and I'm really glad about that."
On the importance of the first touch of the ball...
"I'm all about our first touch. I watch our defensive touches. When a ball comes at them with a medium pace, I'm a stickler for having a good first touch so that our setter has all her options open. I start to worry when I see hesitancy, if our first touch starts to scatter our team around the court. I know we're better than that. Our ball control is improving every day. We're playing really good defense and putting our passes on target. Our girls are doing a great job of passing. We're not giving up runs of points because of our ball control, and that's a good thing."
Senior middle blocker Shelby Sullivan
About the setting and getting six kills in the third set...
"I think it was just when we are in a great rhythm -- the defense was doing really well -- our serve receive was allowing [setter] Stephanie [Aiple] to have a ton of options, and that is really when we can attack the other team. She can go to anyone and is confident in our ability, and when we are in system, anyone is going to get the kill that Stephanie distributes it to."
"In the locker room, we won those first two games and we felt good, but John [Corbelli, associate head coach] was like, 'you don't need to keep to it up, you need to pick it up, we're not playing Aggie volleyball,' and that's what we need to get to. Steph and I knew we needed to get it done and were like 'let's go.'"
On noticing that Mississippi State was out of system...
"Yes you can tell, and it is a major advantage when you can tell that and you can capitalize on that and you can attack them even harder, serve even tougher. You have the freedom to make those more aggressive moves, and if you do make a mistake you can just say 'okay, we're going to get the next one' and move on."
On how she felt A&M played in the third set..."I think we had a good match, but I could tell in the third game that it was time for us to get it done. We don't need to play around, we need to execute well. As our coaches always tell us, that's the most important, playing together as a team so we really wanted to win."