Deberg, Missouri volleyball seniors lead the way in weekend sweep against Texas A&M

Maintaining emotional composure gave way for the Tigers to prevail over the Aggies.

The lights in the Hearnes Center dimmed as a video screened onto the jumbotron.

Highlights of setter Jaden Newsome, outside hitter Kylie Deberg, setter Andrea Fuentes and right side hitter Dariana Hollingsworth-Santana showcased the seniors’ best performances from their Missouri careers.

The announcer called out each senior’s achievements onto the home court one last time. Deberg walked up to coach Joshua Taylor with tears streaming down her face and embraced him.

“Senior night is always tough with emotions being high,” Taylor said. “Saying goodbye to those who gave so much of themselves to the program.”

However, the SEC leader didn’t let her emotions get the best of her. She stuffed Texas A&M’s attempted hit in the fifth set Saturday night to complete a weekend sweep of the Aggies.

After trading points to open Friday night’s match, the visitors began to attack away from the all-American Deberg, challenging Missouri to find an offensive threat for the opposite side of the court.

Enter Hollingsworth-Santana.

The senior appeared at home in a new role on the front line. Three kills in the first set inspired an early 6-1 run from the Tigers, which forced Texas A&M to burn a timeout.

“As we go further into the season, winning matches is going to take all of us,” Hollingsworth-Santana said. “After Florida, we found ways to be good teammates and I think it showed today.”

Teamwork was the theme on Saturday.

As sophomore middle blocker Claudia Dillon jumped to hit the ball, her teammates called out the directions of open spots. It became a small, yet pivotal difference in the Tiger’s play to keep their lead.

After a tough first set loss, Missouri sophomore defensive specialist Erin Williamson expressed the game’s theme of honoring the seniors.

“[Williamson] came into the huddle and said we’re really proud of you and we’re going to have your backs out there,” Fuentes said. “We’re going to play for each other and honor the seniors as best as possible.”

Texas A&M struggled to pull Missouri and its senior-led team out of system both nights, in large part thanks to Fuentes’ teamwork.

The setter is usually in charge of offense, however, the redshirt junior let her gas off the pedal when she decided to be more active on first contact of Missouri’s possession. This allowed for Fuentes to tally nine digs in the match and place more faith on her teammates to act on the second touch.

The Tigers’ hitters and blockers alike got comfortable handing attacks, and focused solely on getting the ball to the Aggies’ side and keeping it there.

Dillon jumped and pushed her hands onto the ball on Texas A&M’s attempted swing and the sound of the rejection alerted fans to holler. The sophomore recorded six blocks, broadening Missouri’s lead 18-14 and pushed it to take the second set 25-19.

Missouri’s blocking efficiency as a whole proved to be a determining factor for Saturday night’s win as it remained blameless, not one error.

Throughout the weekend, sharing the ball allowed Missouri to go on long runs in the middle of sets, no matter who served. On Friday, four Tigers not named Deberg combined for eight kills in the first set.

Missouri coasted to a 25-14 victory in the first and second sets, and prevailed in the third despite a late challenge from the Aggies.

When Saturday’s match started, Texas A&M made it clear they were not going down without a fight. The Aggies’ offense halted Missouri from taking runs in the fourth set of Saturday night’s match and forced it into unprecedented situations.

Sophomore hitter Leandra Mangual-Duran fisted the ball with one hand towards the center of the court after a sharp, cross-court hit from the Aggie side in hopes to keep the play alive. The play posed more issues as the Tigers hesitated until Deberg swung at it and went into the net.

Along with miscommunication, Missouri’s passing efficiency dwindled and disrupted its offensive approach. The first contact dictates the success of a team’s ability to score and the Tigers shut themselves off from chances at runs.

Fuentes hustled throughout the court to put up at least a good set for a one option offense, either far away from the net, or too close for comfort.

The Aggies were able to profit off Missouri’s mistakes to win the fourth set 25-22, and it kept them in winning contention within each set.

Missouri has a history of coming out hot in the first match of a series and ends up setting fire to their own tail by the next one.

After the game, Coach Taylor noted that consistency across the two-night series had been a struggle for the team.

“The first night against Florida was some of the best volleyball we’ve played all year, and night two was some of the worst,” Taylor said.

Back in February, the Tigers sweeped South Carolina in its first match of the series. The tale didn’t remain the same as it dropped the next match to the Gamecocks.

A question of balance and consistency still plagues the Tigers as teams use their own exhaustion against them, resulting in opponents to make or break a Missouri lead.

The Tigers will face Mississippi State as its last opponent of the regular season next week, and it gives Missouri another chance to address this imbalance of play before gearing up for a postseason run.

Edited by Kyle Pinnell | kpinnell@themaneater.com

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