Dec. 4, 2009

Courtesy of Texas A&M Athleitcs

BATON ROUGE, La. - Texas A&M will advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament after defeating 19th-ranked Arizona, 18-25, 25-23, 25-21, 25-23, in first-round action tonight at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on the LSU Campus.

A&M (19-10) takes on No. 15 seed LSU, a 3-0 winner against Tulane, on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Maravich Center. The second-round winner advances to the Omaha Regional to be played Friday and Saturday, Dec. 11-12 at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Neb.

"We've been on a win streak lately, and we feel like we had a lot of momentum coming into the tournament," A&M coach Laurie Corbelli said. "It was a lot about our super positive team attitude tonight that I was impressed with most. Once we kind of got the jitters out at the beginning of it all and got a good feel and a good chemistry with this group, then I think we really started to play our volleyball. That was one of the most fun matches I have coached in a long time."

The Aggies, who were making their first NCAA appearance since 2005, had several career performances en route to their fifth consecutive victory, as well as the Aggies' third win against a ranked opponent this season. Senior right-side hitter Jennifer Banse led all players with a career-high 23 kills while hitting at a .340 clip. She also posted the first 20-20 performance of her career as she tallied a team-high 20 digs.

Sophomore outside hitter Kelsey Black, who played in place of the team's season kill leader Sarah Ammerman, who was held out of the match, added a personal-best 17 kills and pitched in 14 digs, and freshman middle blocker Lindsey Miller hit .414 while posting a career high 14 kills.

Senior outside hitter Mary Batis joined Banse and Black with double-doubles, posting 11 kills and 15 digs. Senior setter Kristen Schevikhoven also accomplished the feat with a season-high 59 assists and 19 digs.

The first set was all Arizona, which also was returning to the tournament after a three-year absence. The Wildcats, who outhit A&M .310 to .222 in the set, used runs of five and six points to jump out to an 11-2 lead, and A&M was playing catch-up for the reminder of the frame. A&M went on a 7-2 run, with Miller accounting for three kills during the stretch, to cut the lead to 13-9, but the Aggies could get no closer as Arizona responded with a 5-1 run to go up, 18-10.

A&M got within six points at 19-13 following back-to-back-kills by Batis, but Arizona got consecutive kills by Whitney Dosty and Tiffany Owens to go up, 21-13. The teams traded points and Arizona was serving for the set at 24-16 when Black posted two kills to keep A&M alive before Stephanie Snow and Courtney Karst capped the set for the Wildcats with a block.

"I thought our passing was really off in the first set," Corbelli said. "We were a little hesitant, and I knew that is not how we play typically. We just needed to settle down. We knew we weren't in our game yet. I thought the hitters and setters, they've played together for a long time and they just got into a rhythm and we started to feel like it was us, and that was all that we needed to feel like we were back to our game."

A&M never trailed in the second set and held off a late charge by the Wildcats to even the match at a set apiece. The Aggies jumped out to a 5-1 lead and went on to build what would equal their biggest lead at 14-6. Arizona cut the margin to 16-11 before Banse ripped off three of her seven kills of the set, mixing it up with a straight-down kill, a tip kill and then hitting off the block to put A&M ahead 19-11.

Arizona went on a 4-1 stretch to put the Wildcats within 20-15. The teams began to trade kills before, with A&M up 23-17, Arizona reeled off five unanswered points to cut the lead to 23-22. Freshman middle blocker Caitlin Adams, in her first play after off the bench, then teamed with Black to block a Wildcat attack and put A&M serving for the set. Owens got a kill before Banse ended the set with a kill.

A&M fought back from a six-point deficit to take the third set. Trailing 11-5, the Aggies went on a 5-1 run to get within 12-10. The Aggies continued to chip away, and trailing 15-12, used a four-point run to take their first lead since scoring the first point of the stanza. Arizona got a kill and then blocked an A&M attack to regain the lead, but Black countered with a kill to tie the score. Arizona's next attack sailed long to put the Aggies back in the lead, 18-17. Batis followed with an ace, and Black and freshman middle blocker Alisia Kastmo blocked Owens to build a 20-17 lead.

The teams began to exchange kills, and with A&M up 22-20, Banse and Batis posted back-to-back kills to put A&M at set point. Whitney Dosty got a kill for Arizona before Banse notched her eighth kill of the set, tooling the block to clinch the set and give the Aggies a 2-1 lead in the match.

"I think the Big 12 really prepared us as well, because we have a lot of really huge hitters in the Big 12," Corbelli said. "We kind of compared some of their hitters to who we have seen and to who we have been able to contain at times, so that helped a little bit. And once our blocking got to be more of a factor, our defense got to take a breath and a sigh of relief that our block was taking over a lot at the net as well."

Arizona scored five unanswered points to build an early 7-3 lead in the fourth set, but A&M came back with a 5-1 run to knot the score at 8-8. A&M tied the score again at 9-9 before Arizona went on a 3-1 run to build a 12-10 advantage. Black then got the Aggies on a roll, knocking down an Arizona player with a thundering kill. Batis followed with a kill and then Arizona's attack went long to give A&M the lead, 13-12.

Arizona got a kill on the ensuing play to tie the score, but it was the last time the Wildcats would even the set. Banse countered with a kill and then teamed with Miller to block an attack by Owens. Owens came back with a kill, but Banse and Miller answered with consecutive kills to put A&M up, 17-14.

A&M, which outhit the Wildcats, .300 to .190 in the set, built a 21-17 lead, but Arizona continued to fight back, getting a kill and a block to pull within 21-19. The teams traded points with Miller putting the Aggies at match point with a kill. Owens got a kill and A&M had an attack error to cut the lead to 24-23 before Miller's slide attack went untouched for the match-winning kill.

"Amazing," Corbelli said when asked about how her players stepped up with Ammerman out of the match. "We've got a lot of talent and we are pretty deep in every position. We've got people who are waiting to get on the court.

"I was really proud of Kelsey for stepping up. She's been chomping at the bit to get on the court to say the least. So I really don't think the team ever thought we would skip a beat, maybe a tiny bit of just the chemistry on the court, but other than that, I thought she did a super job and the team responded beautifully to it."

A&M finished with 68 kills and hit .212 in the match. Arizona (19-11), which got 18 kills apiece from Owens and Dosty had 54 kills while hitting .193. The Wildcats led in blocks, 12-7.

"I was so relaxed and confident in the team, because we have so much experience, great senior leadership," Corbelli said. "We have tons and tons of matches under our belt with this group together. We are really happy to get this win. We didn't win the first round in 2005, and before that we were undefeated in first-round matches, so we are going to start a new streak I hope."

Tournament notes:
Texas A&M is making its 18th overall appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

The Aggies are 21-17 in NCAA matches, including 19-13 under 17th-year head coach Laurie Corbelli.

Aggies are 13-1 in NCAA openers, including 12-1 in first-round matches (A&M had a first round bye in 1995) under Corbelli.

None of A&M's current players had participated in an NCAA match prior to tonight's match.

A&M's best finish in an NCAA tournament was the regional finals in 1999 and 2001.