EL PASO, Texas - No. 16 Texas A&M capped a 3-0 weekend at the Borderland Invitational by defeating UTEP, 25-16, 26-24, 25-15, today at Memorial Gym.
Texas A&M, which swept both Arizona and tournament co-host New Mexico State on Friday in Las Cruces, N.M., extended its win streak to four and improved to 6-3 overall. UTEP, playing its home opener, falls to 2-6.
The Aggies held a 9-7 lead in the opening set before UTEP scored five consecutive points to take its first lead since 1-0. After an A&M timeout, junior outside hitter Kiara McGee ended the Miners' rally with a kill. UTEP got an out-of-system kill on the next play to put the Miners ahead, 13-10, before sophomore middle blocker Kaitlyn Blake sparked the Aggies, getting two kills and teaming with junior opposite hitter Ashlie Reasor for two blocks during a six-point A&M rally. The Aggies, who outhit the Miners .289 to .028 in the frame, led the remainder of the set.
With Texas A&M up, 18-15, freshman outside hitter Hollann Hans, junior setter Stephanie Aiple and senior middle blocker Jazzmin Babers connected on consecutive kills during a 5-0 run that put the Aggies ahead, 23-15. Although a serve into the net ended the streak, Hans quickly put A&M at set-point with her fifth kill. Babers then ended the set, strategically tipping the ball to the open sideline for a kill.
Senior setter Kaysie Shebeneck made her first appearance of the season, starting the second set and directing the Aggies to a 13-8 lead, forcing UTEP to call a timeout. A&M committed three consecutive errors coming out of the timeout, and the Miners eventually tied the score at 13-13. A combined block by McGee and Blake and a service ace by sophomore defensive specialist Amy Houser put the Aggies up, 15-13, but the Miners tied the score at 15-15. Freshman outside hitter Kiana Peroff kept the score in favor of the Aggies with a kill down the line, but UTEP countered with a kill and A&M followed with four consecutive hitting errors to put the Miners up, 20-16. Hans then had thee kills-two courtesy of UTEP overpasses-during a 4-0 spurt that tied the score at 20-20. The teams exchanged points until back-to-back kills by Babers put A&M ahead, 23-21. UTEP came back to tie the score on an A&M block error and attack error before Babers got a kill through the Miners' block to put the Aggies at set point. UTEP stayed alive and tied the score for the 13th time in the frame with a kill before Blake and McGee teamed for a block and Hans got a kill to end the set, giving Texas A&M a 2-0 lead in the match.
Texas A&M never trailed in the third set. UTEP managed to tie the score only once, 7-7, before the Aggies went on 8-1 run to go up 15-8. The Miners got within 15-11 following a three-point rally but were able to overcome the deficit.
Setter Lexi Lopez made her official Texas A&M career debut in the third set, subbing in for Aiple at 17-11. The freshman from Austin, Texas, stepped to the service line and served an ace on her first play in the maroon and white and then set up Blake for a kill to put the Aggies ahead, 19-11. The Miners registered a kill before Blake recorded back-to-back kills and teamed with Reasor for a block to give A&M a double-digit lead, 22-12. UTEP got a kill before Blake put down her sixth kill of the set to put the Aggies ahead, 23-13. A UTEP attack error put the Aggies at match point, but A&M hit into the Miners' block on the ensuing play. UTEP fought off a second match point with a kill before freshman middle blocker Maddie Douglas, who also made her A&M career debut in the final set, got her first kill to complete the sweep.
Texas A&M outhit UTEP .464 to .000 in the final frame and .241 to .038 for the match. Hans led all players with 12 kills and added a personal-best six digs. Blake, who entered the weekend ranked 15th in the nation with 1.57 blocks per set, tallied nine blocks to finish with a 2.44 blocks per set average in the three tournament matches. Texas A&M junior libero Amy Nettles took team-high honors in digs with 11. Lindsey Larson led the Miners with eight kills but was held to a .000 hitting efficiency. Texas A&M closes out its pre-conference season next week with back-to-back top-five opponents.
The Aggies renew their rivalry with former conference foe Texas on Wednesday, taking on the No. 3 Longhorns on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Gregory Gym. It marks the first regular season match-up between the two teams since Texas A&M left the Big 12 Conference following the 2011 season. The match will be televised on the Longhorn Network. After playing their first 10 matches away from home, the Aggies finally make their Reed Arena season debut Friday, Sept. 16 as they play host to No. 2 Wisconsin. First serve is slated for 4 p.m.
Texas A&M Head Coach Laurie Corbelli quotes:
On overall thoughts of the tournament... "It was a really rewarding weekend for us. I think we made some progress in several areas: our serving, our mental toughness. Today we got in some freshmen for their first career kill for [Maddie] Douglas, and first career ace for [Lexi] Lopez. That was really fun. We are really just trying to focus on some things on our side of the net. We are focused on our first touches, anything that comes on our side of the net goes to our target with the right pace and with the right height so that we can do our stuff on offense. I think we are getting closer, but we are certainly not there yet. These kinds of matches really help you see some weaknesses and some areas that we really have to get better at, such as blocking and just general assignments. But overall, I am really excited we went 3-0 this weekend."
On the upcoming week in which Texas A&M plays at No. 3 Texas and hosts No. 2 Wisconsin... "The upcoming week maybe one of the toughest weeks of all my career, to play two top-five teams. They are definitely two of the best teams in the country. How exciting. I love playing those kinds of matches. I think it's the way you get better. It's the way you learn to compete harder. It's figuring out how to win. It's going to be a lot of fun. I'm sure the atmosphere for both matches is just going to be one of the best. I think they are marquee matches for the week for the country and women's collegiate volleyball, so it's going to be fun to be a part of that."