Column: One for the books
Against odds, volleyball disproved doubters in first SEC season
Published: Monday, December 3, 2012
Updated: Monday, December 3, 2012 00:12
On Friday night, the season came to an end for the A&M volleyball team as they fell to No. 3 Texas in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
In their first season in the Southeastern Conference, the Aggies finished with a 25-6 record, trailing only No. 15 Florida for the SEC title. The Aggies did however take home the SEC Western division title using strong play from their seniors all season long.
At the beginning of the season, no one was giving A&M a chance to make any kind of noise in the volleyball-rich SEC. A&M did not have a single player on the preseason SEC team, no accolades, no respect.
Not a single time did the Aggies claim they needed the headlines or the attention to know that they were a good team. Those girls in the locker room, including head coach Laurie Corbelli, knew that this would be a special year.
The Aggies opened the season with a tough test right out of the gate as they faced then No. 5 USC in a match at Reed Arena. The Aggies lost that match 3-1, but they learned that night that with more work on floor location and trust in one another, this team could do some damage.
In an earlier interview with senior co-captains Lindsey Miller and Tori Mellinger, both seemed enthusiastic and fired up for the season.
“We’re going to win the SEC this year; it’s our number one goal,” Miller and Mellinger said.
For those outside Reed Arena, finishing with a decent record would have been good enough, but not for the A&M team and Corbelli.
Corbelli made history this season by winning her 500th career game against Texas State University. Corbelli has exemplified that she has been one of the best at her profession for the past 20 years that she has been at Texas A&M. In a day and age where coaches change allegiances faster than the seasons of the year, Laurie Corbelli and her husband — assistant coach John Corbelli — have built a program upon a strong foundation of character above skill, unity above individualism and a family above players on the court.
The Aggies won the Yale Classic and Delaware Invitational Tournaments with strong play from Mellinger and Miller and key contributions from seniors Stephanie Minnerly and Alisia Kastmo. A&M won nine matches in a row before dropping a home match to Kentucky in late September. Another five-game winning streak had the Aggies in position to take aim at the team’s goal of winning the SEC over heavy favorites Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky.
Then, the middle part of the schedule hit the Aggies hard.
With a rematch against Kentucky on the road and key home games against Tennessee and Florida, the Aggies hit the wall and dropped all three matches in a row.
The team could have folded and told itself that maybe it didn’t belong with the SEC elite. Instead, Corbelli rallied her team by involving freshmen Shelbi Vaughn and Sierra Patrick, who proved that the future of A&M volleyball was ready to be part of the present.
After the three-game losing streak, the Aggies went on an eight-game winning streak to close out the season and earn an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament.
The Aggies went into Austin, Texas and handled the Wolfpack — North Carolina State — with a 3-1 win to set the matchup against the Longhorns.
While the Aggies saws their season end with the 3-1 defeat, the Aggies proved that they are not going to back down from adversity or any outside pressure.
They proved that all season long in the tough SEC play and even from rebounding after bad games and even a few bad sets; time after time, the team responded in a positive way.
Seniors Tori Mellinger, Lindsey Miller, Alisia Kastmo, Stephanie Minnerly and Megan Pendergast walk away from A&M with their legacies of hard working and successful players forever written in the program’s history. A season that saw ups and downs made a statement to the SEC: A&M is a force to be reckoned with.