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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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Cougar bait: A&M falls to No. 22 Houston in four sets

Photo by Ishika Samant

Head coach Jamie Morison looks at the team after Houston scores a point during Texas A&M’s game against Houston on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023.

After a historic 7-1 start to the season, Texas A&M volleyball faced its biggest challenge of the season against the No. 22 Houston Cougars on Wednesday, Sept. 13.
Despite their hot start to the season, the Aggies were unable to keep up with an experienced Cougar squad, falling in four sets.
“[The game] felt a lot like TCU,” coach Jamie Morrison said. “I thought we came out and we started to play our style of volleyball in the third set and got into a competitive match and we need to do that earlier.”
Houston is coming off of a 2022 season in which the Cougars made it to the Sweet 16 before falling to the Stanford Cardinal. The Cougars return most of their production from last year — starting four from last season’s team against the Aggies — and added impact transfer Kenna Sauer, a two-time All Big 12 First-Team selection at Texas Tech.
“Part of the growing part for our team is just, we’re not going to get everything all at once,” Morrison said. “We’ve got to be willing to grind within a rally. I think some of that is, though, [Houston’s] a veteran team [and] has played against some really good volleyball teams. Again, went to the Sweet 16 last year and did it in the tournament, again, where it gets harder and harder each round.”
In the first set, it was all Houston from the start. In seemingly an instant, the Cougars jumped to a 6-0 lead, highlighted by three kills by junior Houston outside hitter Katie Corelli and two from junior middle blocker Kellen Morin.

Despite a small rally to cut the lead to 7-3, Houston’s offense, led by graduate outside hitter Abbie Jackson, picked apart the Aggies’ defense. In the first set, the Maroon and White committed eight errors and only had seven kills compared to the Cougars’ 13.

A&M started off the second quicker than its first, jumping out to a quick 2-0 lead off of two Houston attack errors. The Aggies and Cougars battled back and forth until, after up 8-5, Houston went on an 8-3 run to pull ahead 16-8. In the run, Houston continued to capitalize on miscues from A&M, racking up 4 of its 8 points in that stretch from Aggie errors.

“I actually thought the second set we settled in,” Morrison said. “I think our passers did a pretty good job. I’ve got to go back and watch the match. Our offensive numbers got a little bit better in the third and fourth, but I still think based on the way we passed, and credit to our passers, we can be a little bit higher.”

After two sets, Houston was dominating in all facets of the game. Offensively, the Cougars were hitting over .300, with 27 kills to A&M’s 17. Houston’s defense, led by graduate middle blocker Rachel Tullos stifled the Maroon and White’s attack, holding the Aggies to under .100 hitting with six blocks.

In the third set, the Aggies opened up with their best start of the match, jumping to a 7-4 lead with help from a pair of kills by freshman outside hitter Bianna Muoneke. From there, the Aggies and Cougars battled back and forth. 

A&M stretched its lead to 12-9 until Houston coach David Rehr called a timeout. After the break, the Cougars rallied and scored 4 straight points, taking their first lead of the set. 

Unlike the first two sets, the Maroon and White did not allow Houston to pull ahead, answering Houston’s run with kills from middle blockers freshman Ital Lopuyo and sophomore Ifenna Cos- Okpalla. 
Once more, both squads refused to give one another any separation, with neither team getting more than a 2-point separation. This is until the Aggies went on a 5-1 run — highlighted by three kills from graduate outside hitter Caroline Meuth at 15-all to pull in front, 20-16.
From there, A&M held the lead the rest of the way. Houston made a late run, pulling the score within two, but the Aggies held on to take the third set 25-21 off of a slicing Muoneke kill.
“The one thing we’ve talked about is just, we’re going to play better teams,” Morrison said. “Instead of taking control of the match, just, we need to take control of each rally. I think we’re starting to figure out how to do that. I thought we got there in the third set of this [game] and the third set against TCU. Good teams are going to get digs, they’re going to get block touches and you can’t be frustrated by it.”
In the fourth set, it seemed as if the Cougars would run away with it early, jumping out to a 5-2 lead off of multiple Aggie errors and an ace from Sauer.
The Aggies didn’t give in, however, responding with a 4-0 run of their own to pull ahead by 1. In what was a theme the entire night, Houston pulled ahead of the Maroon and White due to errors. In an 11-5 run, the Cougars scored 7 of their points off Aggie mistakes. After pulling ahead, Houston did not give up the lead, taking the set 25-18 and the match, 3-1.
A&M came into the match fifth in the country in blocks per set, but were outblocked by the Cougars, 13-7. The Aggies also committed almost twice as many errors as Houston with 44 to just 28 for the Cougars.
“I thought we actually did a good job of settling into [Houston tipping over blocks] by the end,” Morrison said. “We started to realize that they were going to tip and that we need[ed] to go for it.”
The Maroon and White return back to action on Friday, Sept. 15, taking on Liberty at Reed Arena at 12 p.m.

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