Texas A&M 3, Winthrop 0

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. No. 18 Texas A&M used a balanced attack to sweep Winthrop, 30-26, 30-23, 30-25, in the first round of the NCAA Championships played at the Stokely Athletic Center.

Laura Jones, Melissa Munsch and Kendra Felder combined for 51 of A&Ms 64 total kills in the match. Setter Kari Kelley kept the Eagle defense out of sync with her distribution of the ball as the Aggies set a school record in a NCAA three-game match with a .371 hitting efficiency.

[A balanced attack] is something we work hard to do, A&M coach Laurie Corbelli said. We want great athletes in our program who can be versatile and hit various sets. Just having the speed and the verticals that these players have, and Kari Kelley distributing the ball very deceptively, it just allowed everybody to have a lot easier defensive set up against them.

We did a good job of scouting Winthrop, and the team carried out the game plan.

Jones gave the Aggies the first point of the match, and A&M held the lead throughout the 30-26 first-game victory. The Eagles were within 13-11 before A&M went on a 7-2 run to build its biggest lead of the game. A&M held a 27-22 advantage when Jones teamed with Munsch for a block and then followed with a kill to put the Aggies serving for the game. Winthrop got a kill from A&M transfer Jayna Baker to end the run. A&M then committed three consecutive attack errors to put the Eagles within 29-26. But then Sarah Billingsley served into the net to end the game.

The Aggies got off to a slow start in Game 2 as Winthrop jumped out to a 4-0 lead. The Eagles held an 11-9 advantage when A&M scored five unanswered points to take its first lead of the game. Winthrop was within five points at 25-20 when the Aggies went on a 4-0 run to take their largest lead of the game. The Eagles Mary Hock posted a kill to end the streak, and Shannon Sitzmann recorded back-to-back aces to cut the lead to 29-23. Munsch then got a kill off the block to end the game.

Munsch and Jones began Game 3 with back-to-back kills, and after an Eagle point, Felder got into the action with four consecutive kills during a five-point scoring run that put A&M ahead, 7-1. It would be the biggest lead the Aggies would hold as Winthrop continued to fight back, cutting the lead to two points four times, the last at 24-22. Jones then pounded three kills, and Meghan Kainz followed with an ace to put the Aggies ahead, 28-22.

A service error and a ball handling error by the Aggies kept Winthrop alive. But Carrie Moreira killed an Eagle errant pass that hung over the net to put A&M serving for the match. Hock answered with a kill before Jones put down her match-leading 21st kill to end the match.

Munsch, who had not played since Nov. 24 when she injured her right ankle in the fourth game against Kansas State, hit .577 with 17 kills and a match-high four blocks.

Having Melissa back raised the comfort level on the court for everybody, Corbelli said.

Felder added 13 kills and a .500 hitting efficiency, and Jones hit .462. Lindsay Frantz led the Aggies in digs with 11.

Tori Grafeman led the Eagles with 11 kills, and Mary Hock had a match-high 14 digs.

A&M improves to 19-8 overall and remains undefeated in NCAA first-round matches during Corbellis 12 years as coach of the Aggies. Winthrop, which entered the match with the second most wins in the tournament field, ends its season, 31-4.

The Aggies, who have never won two NCAA road matches in a season, now face Tennessee Saturday. First serve is at 5:30 p.m. (4:30 CST) at Stokely Athletic Center. The Lady Volunteers, who are ranked No. 10 in the coaches poll and are the No. 12 seed in the tournament, defeated Eastern Kentucky, 30-24, 30-16, 30-22, to advance to the second round.

This team has set its goals very high to get deep into the tournament, to play well and execute the things we know how to do, Corbelli said. We have learned a lot throughout the Big 12 season and have been challenged week in and week out. We are ready to have another challenge, and that brings out the best in our team.

The confidence is there, and we are eager to get on the court again. If we could play right now, we would love to do it.

The winner advances to the Sweet Sixteen and will compete in the Minneapolis Regional to be contested Dec. 10-11 at the Sports Pavilion.

Notes:

With the sweep, the Aggies have won 19 consecutive games in NCAA first-round matches.

-- Courtesy Texas A&M