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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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One step away
June 8, 2024

Aggie Volleyball wins Texas A&M Invitational

The+Aggies+swept+Auburn+for+the+third+time+in+a+row+Wednesday+night.
Photo by Tim Lai

The Aggies swept Auburn for the third time in a row Wednesday night.

The Texas A&M volleyball team defended their home court this past weekend and captured first place in the Texas A&M Invitational.  The Aggies defeated Wichita State and Abilene Christian on Saturday 3-0 and 3-1, respectively, before beating New Mexico State 3-2 in a riveting back-and-forth affair on Sunday to capture the trophy.

The Aggies played excellent volleyball in their first match of the invitational, sweeping a solid Wichita State squad. A&M (4-1) hit .470 against the Shockers, the sixth highest single-match mark in program history. Senior middle blocker Shelby Sullivan recorded a match-high 14 kills, sophomore setter Stephanie Aiple led the Aggies with 38 assists and sophomore libero Amy Nettles chipped in a match-high 10 digs.

The Maroon and White came out of the gates “on fire,” according to Head Coach Laurie Corbelli, and they rode that momentum to a clean three-match sweep.

Also on Saturday, the Aggies squared off against in-state foe Abilene Christian. Junior Jazzmin Babers, who was named the tournament’s MVP at the conclusion of the weekend, led the team with 20 kills while outside hitter Emily Hardesty added a career-high 18 kills.

The Aggies took an early 8-0 lead against the Wildcats – Babers and Hardesty each contributed three kills in the run – and they never relinquished it.  Abilene Christian managed to win the third set, but Texas A&M finished them off in the fourth set with a 25-20 victory.

“[Emily] Hardesty was golden all night long. She’s so complete,” Corbelli said after Saturday’s two victories. “[Jazzmin] Babers did a really nice job tonight. I thought we had some miscommunication and trouble passing for a while. We really encouraged them to stay relaxed and fix up little bit of our technique, and luckily got the win.”

The two wins set the stage for Sunday’s championship match against New Mexico State, whose mascot is also the Aggies.

The entire match was back-and-forth. In the first set, the margin of victory was never more than two points for either team. With New Mexico State leading 23-22 in the first set, A&M called a timeout to regroup, and proceeded to score five of the next eight points to take the victory, 27-25.

A&M won the second set as well, 25-21, but then the momentum switched over to the visiting Aggies. NMSU won the third and fourth sets, not necessarily due to adjustments that they made, but rather the hot streak that they created.

“What we noticed was that No. 6 got really hot and stayed really hot,” Corbelli said in Sunday’s postgame press conference. “She was going right at our blockers and did a great job. One of the best performances I’ve ever seen from an outside hitter as a freshman, honestly.”

Corbelli also said that NMSU targeted freshman Kaitlyn Blake a little more after the second set. But the head coach said that she was very impressed with how Blake, who was making only her second career start, handled the situation.

“They started going more after Blake in the middle,” Corbelli said. “I think they were trying to take advantage of Blake’s inexperience in the middle — that’s her first match to ever play, collegiately, in the middle, and they knew it, so they went at her a lot.  And I thought she did a beautiful job.”

A&M had an opportunity to sweep NMSU in the third set, but NMSU made a late run and found a way to win what ended up being an exciting finish in the third set.

“We had swings at match point in set three that we didn’t finish,” Corbelli said. “And so the big battle was on with us against ourselves. Could we win in four or five? Because finishing is so important, when we were so close and didn’t do that, the whole momentum can shift to the other team. We didn’t lose our faith or our confidence. We had no momentum, so to come back and battle point for point is huge.”

Corbelli really stressed the importance of finishing, and she pointed out a few key Aggies who made the victory possible. 

“Kiarra McGee was hot, Jazzmin Babers was hot and Emily Hardesty was unstoppable; what a leader on the court,” Corbelli said. “It’s the way they all rose to the occasion. When you’re up and you lose that lead you have to regain your composure and focus on everything to come back and get the win. That gives me so much faith in the future of our season.”

McGee came through in the clutch, slamming down several thundering kills late in the match, and she finished with a double-double with 20 kills and 13 digs. Babers also recorded a double-double with 20 kills and 10 blocks.

McGee and Hardesty were each named to the All-Tournament team.

It was a tremendous display of mental and physical toughness that A&M was able win despite the fact that the opposition had all the momentum going into the final set.  Sophomore setter Stephanie Aiple, who notched a career-high 60 assists in the championship match, said it is critical to take it one point at a time in a close match.

“I think about the present and the point that we’re trying to get,” Aiple said. “It’s making eye-contact with the other players and saying ‘we’re getting this point.’ What’s going through my mind is just trying to encourage the team.”

Aiple’s whopping assist total almost matched New Mexico State’s combined total as a team of 67.

“Our passing definitely helped and our defense helped a lot, but I try to get on every single ball I can,” Aiple said. “I’ve been working a lot in practice recently to get really good position and getting to the ball earlier so I’ve been able to chase down more balls than usual.”

What made the wins even more impressive is that they did it without their two senior leaders, Sullivan and outside hitter Angela Lowak. Both injuries are labeled “day-to-day,” and it is unknown when the two will be able to rejoin the starting lineup.
While the team still has to improve on its serve receive to reach its fullest potential, Corbelli said the competition was “perfect” for where they are right now as a team, and that they were challenged enough to prepare them for the upcoming season.

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  • Kiara McGee dives for a ball against New Mexico State on Sunday, September 6th. 

    Photo by Tim Lai
  • Ashlie Reason blocks a spike against New Mexico State on Sunday, September 6th.

    Photo by Tim Lai
  • Ashlie Reason fist pumps after a point during the game against New Mexico State on Sunday, September 6th. 

    Photo by Tim Lai
  • Laurie Corbelli talks strategy during a time-out against New Mexico State on Sunday, September 6th. 

    Photo by Tim Lai
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