MIAMI, Florida (KVIA) - The regular season has come to a close, and the Aggies couldn’t have gotten hotter at a better time. They won their sixth consecutive match on Saturday, sweeping FIU in Miami. Starr Williams led the team with an efficient 13 kills, and hit .364. The Panthers fell to 12-18 overall, and finished .500 in Conference USA action (8-8). NM State climbed to 19-9, and will enter the CUSA Tournament with the second-best record in the league (11-5).
Set-by-set: NM State wins 3-0 (26-24, 25-22, 25-20)
Errors were abundant in the opening set from both teams. FIU and NM State each put four serves into the net, and the teams combined for 13 attack errors. 10 of those came from the hands of Aggie attackers, leading to a .140 hitting percentage as a unit. Errors from both the Aggies and Panthers made it difficult for either side to gain momentum, as evidenced by 11 ties and five lead changes. FIU went ahead 22-20 late, but the road team answered with a 6-2 run. The Panthers’ only two points of the stretch came on Mari Sharp errors (one service and one attack). Meanwhile, Sharp did add an ace, while Ryleigh Whitekettle nailed three straight kills. Kacia Brown sent two consecutive balls to the court after a 24-24 tie, winning the set 26-24.
Starr Williams got going early in the following frame. The redshirt sophomore posted three kills within a five-point span, giving the Aggies a 10-5 lead that forced a Panther timeout. After trading points for the majority of the middle of the set, it was a 6-1 run that got FIU out in front 16-15. Despite the Aggies hitting .370 as a team in the middle set, it was five FIU errors that sparked NM State’s 8-5 run that closed out the set. Most importantly, a service error and a bad set were the final two points of the middle set, handing the Aggies a 25-22 victory.
The two sides traded each of the first 11 points, before NM State pulled ahead 8-5 to begin the final chapter. As was the case in the first set, the teams combined for 21 total attack and service errors. Three Aggie blocks and eight Panther attack errors held FIU to just eight kills in the final set, tied for their fewest of the weekend. Once again, FIU found themselves ahead 16-15, before NM State went on a 9-5 run. All five of FIU’s points in the span came via Aggie errors. Mari Sharp came through with two of her four kills on the afternoon as part of the dominant 14-point stretch that ultimately finalized the sweep with a score of 25-20.
Head Coach Mike Jordan, on the successful finish to the regular season: “We had to grind, but we’re happy to get the sweep today and finish second in CUSA this year! Starr (Williams) is playing better. She had a really good weekend. We were high error today, but kept working and made plays when we needed it. It’s small doses, but Bella (Castro) and Maggie (Lightheart) keep coming up big in moments when we need a lift. I love what our smalls are doing in the backcourt. Morgan (Stewart), Bella and Kaylee (Peterson) are doing a nice job.”
The CUSA Tournament field has been set. Starting on Friday, No. 2-seed NM State will take on No. 7-seed LA Tech. The tournament will take place over three days, across Nov. 17-19 in Lynchburg, Va. The bracket includes eight of the nine CUSA teams, and will follow a traditional, single-elimination format.
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