COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Texas A&M began the second half of its Southeastern Conference schedule with a 25-20, 25-18, 25-19 victory over South Carolina today at the Carolina Volleyball Center.
It was the eighth victory over the last nine matches for the Aggies, who improve to 14-7 overall and 8-2 in SEC matches. South Carolina falls to 15-7, including 3-7 in SEC play.
Texas A&M All-American and redshirt senior middle blocker Jazzmin Babers tied for match-high honors with 12 kills while hitting .524 as the Aggies outhit the Gamecocks, .317 to .167 for the match. Junior outside hitter Kiara McGee pitched in 11 kills while hitting at a .320 clip, and freshman outside hitter Hollann Hans also reached double-figure kills with 10 while junior setter Stephanie Aiple distributed 34 assists.
Sophomore middle blocker Kaitlyn Blake, who leads the SEC in blocks per set, led the Aggies with four blocks, and Babers added three to give her 449 block assists for her career and move her within seven block assists of the school all-time career record of 456 held by Cindy Lothspeich (1994-97).
Senior defensive specialist Victoria Arenas took match-high honors in digs with 16, and junior libero Amy Nettles had eight digs, putting her within 18 of the 1,000-career digs milestone.
Texas A&M led the first set from start to finish, building its largest advantage at 16-8 following back-to-back errors by the Gamecocks. South Carolina, which was outhit .433 to .297 in the frame, later used a 3-0 run to get within 20-17 before McGee caromed a kill off the block to thwart the Gamecocks' rally. The teams began to trade points before McGee put down her fifth kill and Babers and Aiple followed with a block to put the Aggies at set point. South Carolina got a kill to stave off one set point before Babers' attack near the right-side pin ricocheted off the Gamecocks' block for the set-ending kill.
South Carolina took its first lead of the match by scoring the first two points to begin the second set. Aiple later set up McGee and Babers for back-to-back kills that gave A&M the lead, 4-3, and the Aggies would never trail for the remainder of the set. South Carolina tied the score at 4- and 5-all before A&M went on a 6-1 run to go up, 11-6. The Gamecocks then scored three unanswered points to get within 11-9 before Hans ended the rally with a kill, marking the start of a 5-0 spurt by the Aggies. South Carolina never got closer than five points for the reminder of the set and trailed 20-14 when McGee and Hans posted back-to-back kills, and sophomore defensive specialist Amy Houser followed with her second of a career-high three aces in the match to put A&M up, 23-14. The Aggies took their largest lead on the next play as South Carolina had an attack error that put Texas A&M at set point, 24-14. The Gamecocks, who were outhit, .306 to .079 in the stanza, made a late rally, fighting off four set points before Hans closed out the set with a kill.
The Aggies held an 11-9 lead in the third set when South Carolina gained the momentum, putting down three consecutive kills, including a kill after a lengthy rally to build a 12-10 lead. The home team's momentum quickly fizzled as the Gamecocks served long, and the Aggies took over with Houser stepping to the service line. A&M ran its scoring streak to eight consecutive points, with Babers contributing three kills during the surge. A service error temporarily ended the run, but Hans got a kill off the block to begin a 3-0 run that put the Aggies up, 22-13.
The teams traded points, with A&M senior setter Kaysie Shebeneck entering the match for Aiple and immediately setting up Blake for a kill that gave the Aggies a 23-14 lead. South Carolina then made a last-ditch effort, rallying to get within 23-18, forcing A&M to call a timeout.
Following the timeout, Shebeneck once again set up Blake for the kill to put the Aggies at match point. Dessaa Legros put down her team-leading 12th kill to keep the Gamecocks alive, but Blake and Emily Hardesty teamed for a block on the ensuing play to clinch the victory for the Aggies.
For the match, Texas A&M led the Gamecocks in kills (48-24), assists (45-33), aces (5-4) and digs (50-34). South Carolina led in blocks, 9-7, marking the first time in six matches this season that A&M came out victorious despite trailing in blocks.
Texas A&M returns home to Reed Arena on Thursday for a rematch against Alabama, which handed the Aggies a 3-2 loss in the SEC season opener in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The match, which begins at 6 p.m., marks the start of a season-high four-match homestand, which also includes contests against Tennessee (Nov. 6), Mississippi State (Nov. 11) and Georgia (Nov. 13).
HEAD COACH LAURIE CORBELLI:
On getting the sweep to start the second half of the conference schedule...
"It was really a fun team win. The focus from the beginning was really good. The big concern in this gym has always been our passing, and the team settled in and did a really nice job of passing. I thought the blocking today was really well formed and well timed, and it made our defense behind the block a lot smoother and a lot better. So overall, both from an offensive and defensive standpoints, it was one of our better performances."
On getting out of Columbia in 3 sets instead of going 5 sets like A&M has done in the last two visits...
I told the team after the match that this is maybe one of the most stressful places I have ever coached in the SEC. It is such a tough place to play, and they play so great at home. I was so relieved that we were able to close it out in three sets. I sat on the bench in the third set thinking I'm probably going to cry at the end of this one because I'm so relieved. They are ones of those teams that just plays so beautifully at home, and we were able to just contain what we wanted to contain and really get our side going. And we had much better serving than we have had lately, so I do think our serving is getting better."
On hosting Alabama, which upset A&M in five sets in the SEC opener...
"That opening match against Alabama is a sore spot for us, and it is our chance to take another step towards our goal, and it is our chance to get a little bit of revenge, not that revenge is that huge because we know we just have to perform. It will be tough; there is no question. We match up with them really well, but it is always a battle. I think the team sees the goal is a little closer, and I think that the motivation is coming back around from them to being we made it through the rough stretch of the season and we are on the home stretch. They feel lighter. They feel like there is a really strong purpose; it is not as distant. We survived October for the most part, so now to be home, this early November is going to be really fun and really good for us."
On starting a four-match homestand in front of the 12th Man
"It will be nice to have our home crowd know that we will be back in a few nights. We will be returning soon instead of in two weeks. Hopefully we can get some momentum going there, as well as with our fans."