COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Texas A&M handed Missouri its first Southeastern Conference loss of the season with a crucial 22-25, 25-22, 25-20, 25-23 victory tonight at Reed Arena.
A post-match recognition in front of the home crowd had already been planned to honor Texas A&M head coach Laurie Corbelli and associate head coach John Corbelli, who recorded their 500th victory at the helm of the Aggies with A&M's road win at Georgia last week. The Aggies made the ceremony-as well as the coaching duo's 501st victory-extra special by knocking off the Tigers, who entered the match atop the SEC standings with a 9-0 record and riding a 13-match win streak.
It was Texas A&M's seventh victory over the last eight matches as the Aggies improved to 13-7 overall and 7-2 in the SEC to close out the first half of conference play. Missouri dropped to 18-4 overall after suffering its fifth consecutive loss in the series against the Aggies and joins Kentucky and Florida with one loss in league play.
Four Texas A&M players posted double-figure kills, with junior outside hitter Kiara McGee leading all players with 16. Junior opposite hitter Ashlie Reasor contributed 12 kills, and sophomore middle blocker Kaitlyn Blake and freshman outside hitter Hollann Hans pitched in 11 kills apiece.
Aggie junior setter Stephanie Aiple delivered 50 assists while directing the offense to a .227 to .188 lead in team hitting, and she also posted her second double-double of the season by adding a season-high 13 digs. Senior defensive specialist Victoria Arenas also had a season high in digs with 17, tying junior libero Amy Nettles for the team lead. Sophomore defensive specialist Amy Houser, who made her first start of the season, and junior defensive specialist Gabby Litwin finished with nine digs each.
Senior middle blocker Jazzmin Babers led all players with seven block assists, giving her 446 for her career and putting her within 10 block assists of tying the school's all-time record for block assists.
Texas A&M got off to a strong start, jumping out to a 16-11 lead in the opening set. The Tigers quickly got back into the set, going on a 6-1 run to tie the score at 17-all. The teams exchanged points and the Maroon and White held a 19-18 edge before Missouri reeled off four unanswered points to take its first lead, 22-19. The Tigers, who outhit A&M, .133 to .089 in the frame, went on to take a 24-20 lead. The Aggies fought off two set points, getting back-to-back kills by Babers and Hans before Missouri's Carly Kan put down her fifth kill of the set to close out the win.
Texas A&M used a 6-0 run to go up 9-4 in the second set, and the Aggies stayed in the lead for the remainder of the set. A&M kept its five-point advantage at 16-11 before the Tigers began to chip away, using a 4-1 run to get within 17-15. Missouri stayed within two points at 19-17 before McGee and Reasor had back-to-back kills, and an ace by Aiple put the Aggies ahead, 22-17. The cushion quickly evaporated as A&M committed four errors during a 5-1 Missouri run that put the Tigers within 23-22. Blake then punished the Tigers for an overpass with a kill that put A&M at set point, and Kan hit wide on the next play to close out the 25-22 win for A&M, evening the match at a set apiece.
Missouri overcame a three-point deficit early in the third set and took its first lead at 11-10 after A&M hit into the net. The Aggies quickly got on track and began to separate from the Tigers with a 10-3 rally that put A&M up, 20-14. A&M, which outhit the Tigers, .382 to .195, went on to build its largest lead at 23-16 on a block by Babers and Reasor. Missouri got back within 23-18 before Reasor put the Aggies at set point with a kill. The Tigers stayed in contention with back-to-back kills, but the rally ended when they served into the net to close out the 25-20 win for the Aggies, giving A&M a 2-1 lead in the match.
There were 17 ties and nine lead changes in an intense and nerve-wracking fourth set. Except for A&M's 4-1 lead at the beginning of the set, neither team held more than a two-point advantage. Missouri took its last lead at 19-18 following a Kan kill and an A&M attack error into the net. A kill by Blake knotted the score at 19-all, and Missouri then hit wide to return the lead to the Aggies. Missouri would tie the score at 20-20 and again at 23-23 before Babers and McGee put down back-to-back kills to clinch the victory.
Kira Larson had a team-high 15 kills for Missouri, which not only was playing without season kill leader Melanie Crow, but also lost her back-up, Sydney Deeken, to an apparent ankle injury midway through the first set.
Texas A&M begins the second half of its conference slate Sunday as the Aggies hit the road to take on South Carolina. First serve is at 3 p.m. (4 p.m. ET) at the Carolina Volleyball Center. Texas A&M swept the Gamecocks, 25-6, 25-15, 25-18, when the teams met just over two weeks matches ago at Reed Arena.
The match will be televised on the SEC Network with Holly McPeak and Sam Gore calling the action.
Visit 12thMan.com for more information on Texas A&M volleyball. Aggie fans also can keep up to date with the A&M volleyball team on Facebook and on Twitter and Instagram by following @AggieVolleyball.
Texas A&M post-match quotes:
HEAD COACH LAURIE CORBELLI:
On getting the win and being honored tonight...
"I was prepared (to have the ceremony) either way. I was really, really happy with the way the team fought back. Set one was pretty smooth for a while. We got into a bad rotation and couldn't close out set one. But, the whole time we were in a position that we could seize the opportunity and put ourselves in a position to win."
On if this is the biggest win...
"Yes, this is the biggest win of the season. Missouri's ranked, and their RPI is around 16 and they are leading the conference, undefeated halfway through the season. I thought we had chances to get other big wins, but we weren't able to capitalize. That was on my mind since we left Georgia. I know the players were thinking about the match. That was a big match. For us, it helped us recognize our identity, that we are capable of winning. The bubble just burst in the first and we had to find what we were missing in that first set. A lot like the Georgia game, getting off to a slow start. They had us trailing and we were off to one of the slowest starts of the season and we responded. I think the team started to feel it and understand it at that point. Even when we are down and struggling, we still have the emotion in us to win it. "
On the balanced attack...
"Our five attackers were in double-figure points. I love that about our team that we are really balanced. If we are in system and the blockers have to honor [Kaitlyn] Blake and [Jazzmin] Babers, then the outsides just have such an advantage. They are talented and they hit hard and high. Our challenge is to be in system and to have Stephanie [Aiple] with the ball at the net as often as possible. Our passers are working so hard to get that every time. They put a lot of pressure on themselves. They want to be perfect. When teams like Missouri and Georgia come at you with tough serving, our passers struggled for a while, but they have great moments where the team would take advantage of it and our offense was unstoppable. Missouri plays some (great) volleyball over there, and I feel lucky that we got all of our starters out there. They had some unfortunate injuries and we got a chance to take advantage of them with a match like this."
On sophomore middle blocker Kaitlyn Blake...
"I love Blake's fire. It's so genuine. She is playing middle for the first time in her collegiate career. She is just so physically dominant that teams have to honor her, and she just keeps going. It almost makes me laugh when I watch her play, because some plays she makes are just so interesting. Her arms are all over the place and she flies around, but she is so physical and she loves to play. She always goes 110 percent, and it's really fun to watch. I think the team feeds off of her."
TEXAS A&M SENIOR MIDDLE BLOCKER JAZZMIN BABERS
On Laurie Corbelli being honored for her 500th win at Texas A&M...
"It was awesome. Before our last game, Emily [Hardesty] said, 'let's win for Laurie and John'. I thought it was great that (Corbelli) got to celebrate it at home. We celebrated it a little bit on the road, but it's always good to be on your home court."
On the mindset after dropping the first set...
"At that point you just have to forget it, take what you learned from it and move on. One thing Stephanie [Aiple] said at the beginning of the set is to stay positive no matter what happens. So after dropping the first set, we just put it behind us, kept our heads up. We have to stay positive no matter what happens. "
On her father Syracuse head football coach Dino Babers being at the match and his post-game speech...
"I believe his record is 4-0 (at A&M matches). We played his speech before the Florida game right as it started blowing up on the internet, but not before tonight's game. He was just a dad today. "
TEXAS A&M JUNIOR OPPOSITE SIDE HITTER ASHLIE REASOR
On her performance...
"Stephanie [Aiple] just kept giving me the ball. I have to thank the middles for pulling the middle blockers, so I pretty much had a split most of the time. It came from the passers, middles and it came from Stephanie. I'm just lucky to get the ball. It was just good attacking overall tonight."
On emotions during big games...
"You could tell in the Georgia match that it was so emotional from the first point to the last point. Our team runs off energy, and I think today the energy was very consistent. I don't think there was ever a dip in the communication. Today's match was really emotional for us, too. With an undefeated team coming into our house, we wanted to give them their first loss. Obviously, that is emotional for all of us. It was fun, for them to come here and us to take it to them."
On carrying momentum to future matches...
"Take the next team and play like we did tonight. It was pretty consistent, and everyone was really focused on this match. So we are just going to take it one match at a time for the next nine matches we have left in conference play."