STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Texas A&M won its 10th consecutive match with a 25-21, 25-19, 25-21 victory over Mississippi State on Sunday afternoon at the Newell-Grissom Building. With the Aggies' victory along with Kentucky's 3-2 loss to Missouri, A&M takes over sole possession of first place in the Southeastern Conference standings with a critical showdown against the revenge-minded Wildcats coming up on Wednesday at Reed Arena in College Station.
The Aggies improved to 19-6 overall and 12-2 in SEC matches with today's sweep against the Bulldogs, climbing one game ahead of both Kentucky and Missouri in the SEC standings. Mississippi State falls to 14-14 overall and 3-11 in conference play.
Redshirt junior middle blocker Jazzmin Babers, the reigning SEC Player of the Week, paced the Aggies with 10 kills while hitting .692 and also posting a match-high seven blocks. Sophomore opposite hitter Ashlie Reasor and senior middle blocker Shelby Sullivan added nine kills apiece while hitting .692 and .500, respectively. Sophomore setter Stephanie Aiple directed the offense, dishing out 33 assists as A&M outhit the Bulldogs, .344 to .172, and Aggie sophomore libero Amy Nettles led all players with 10 digs, marking a personal-best 10 consecutive matches in which she has posted double-figure digs.
A&M used a 5-0 run early in the first set to take an 8-4 lead. The Bulldogs called a timeout and then quickly got back within a point at 8-7. MSU stayed within striking distance for the remainder of the stanza despite being outhit .424 to .263. Sullivan put down one of her six kills in the set to give A&M a 19-16 lead, but the Bulldogs countered with back-to-back kills to get within 19-18. MSU, however, was unable to catch the Aggies, serving wide and then sailing an attack long during the next two plays to give A&M a 21-18 advantage.
The teams exchanged kills, with Sullivan getting a kill on the slide attack to put the Aggies at set point, 24-21. Sullivan ran the slide again on the ensuing play and notched the kill to close out the frame.
MSU built its largest lead of the match early in the second set as the Bulldogs used a 5-0 surge to jump out to a 6-2 advantage. A&M would chip away at the lead, eventually tying the score at 14-14 following a block by Babers and junior outside hitter Emily Hardesty. MSU retook the lead with a kill off the block, but Reasor answered with back-to-back kills, fueling a 5-0 run that put the Aggies up, 19-15.
A&M held a 20-17 lead when Hardesty put down one of her five kills in the set, and Sullivan followed with a solo block. The Aggies' serve sailed long on the next play, but sophomore outside hitter Kiara McGee returned the serve to A&M with a cross-court shot to put A&M ahead 23-18. Babers and Aiple teamed for a block to put the Aggies at set point, but MSU's Evie Grace Singleton put down one of her match-high 16 kills to extend the set. The Bulldogs, who were outhit, .387 to .133 in the set, went back to Singleton on the next play, but her attack landed out of bounds to end the set, 25-19, giving A&M a 2-0 lead in the match.
The third stanza was tied at 5-5 before A&M slowly began to pull away, outscoring the Bulldogs 10-4 to build its largest lead at 15-9. MSU, which was outhit .192 to .097, attempted a comeback, getting within three points at 20-17 and again at 23-20 before a kill by McGee put the Aggies at match point. A&M then served into the net before Reasor clinched the victory with a kill.
With the win, A&M set a school record for most consecutive SEC victories, besting the Aggies' previous record of nine wins to close out their inaugural SEC season in 2012. A&M also improved to 6-0 in the all-time series against the Bulldogs, with all six wins coming in the form of three-set sweeps.
Texas A&M post-match quotes:
Texas A&M Head Coach Laurie Corbelli:
On winning 10 consecutive matches...
"It feels really good to have 10 wins in a row. The team is excited. They have really improved a lot, too. They are carrying over things they have learned in each match and applying them to the next match. That's a sign of a really special group. They can really retain a lot of the things that they are learning as we go."
On today's match...
"We had some more great performances tonight. I thought our passing was consistently good, not great, but consistently good. I don't think we got aced much at all. It helped us get our offense going. They run such a fast offense; they hit so hard that we were really struggling in the first set with our blocking. But I felt the team stayed calm and collected and really got the block together, and it helped our defense be able to get to some of those wildly hit balls that are just hit so hard through the seam of the block, and are really the most difficult to stop. Overall, except towards the end when we started missing a few serves -- I thought we let up a little bit and kind of lost a little bit of our intensity, and yet it luckily didn't come back to hurt us -- but overall we are really pleased and we are really excited to get home and get a couple matches at home."
On Wednesday's crucial match against Kentucky...
"It's something you always look for in your season: the matches that are just going to be full of excitement and have a lot (riding) on them. We are fortunate we get to be at home, so the team was already talking about it in the locker room after this match. Next up is Kentucky, and let's get ourselves rested and ready. It's important that we come to play. It's a match that means a lot. The team has been very focused. They have been performing well. I don't expect anything different to happen. We will give it our best, and we will enjoy being at home, that's for sure."