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Volleyball: Aggies fall to No. 16 Arizona State in 5 sets

COLORADO SPRING – For a set and a half it seemed the New Mexico State volleyball team was the one ranked in the top 25. Tthen it slipped away for a while, then there was a resurgence, before the Aggies finally fell to No. 16 Arizona State on Saturday at the Falcon Classic in a rollercoaster of a match that finished the Sun Devils way, 22-25, 25-22, 25-18, 20-25, 15-7.

It was an up and down match for the Aggies (2-1), but the final slope went downwards.  NMSU led midway through the final and deciding set, 7-6, on a kill by Aggie freshman Tatyana Battle.  But  the 2-0 Sun Devils ended the match on a 9-0 run.

“I’m really pleased with a lot of what we did today,” Aggies coach Mike Jordan said. “We had a lot of great moments, but Arizona State was just a little more experienced and mentally tougher at crunch time.”

NMSU committed a total of 35 attacking errors which led to a .151 hitting percentage, while Arizona State hit at .290.  For the third-straight match senior Gwen Murphy led both teams in kills, this time finishing with 16.  For the second-straight match freshman Brianna Ainsworth had a match high in assists, tallying 27 versus the Sun Devils.  Senior Taylor Livoti added 20.  Fellow senior Andy Tauai led the Aggies with 11 digs and also added six kills.

“Gwen Murphy is just a superstar,” Jordan said. “She was awesome once again today.”

The Aggies used two separate three-point rallies to take a  9-5 lead in the opening set.  Although Arizona State rallied to tie the set midway through, NMSU never trailed after being down 1-2 through three points and took the set 25-22.

The Aggies then came flying out the gates in set number two and had a dominating 15-5 lead.  It seemed NMSU would handily take set two and take a 2 -0 lead over the No. 16 team in the country, seemingly all but wrapping up a top-25 win.

But perhaps the Aggies started celebrating too early.  Arizona State marked 20 of the final 27 points, including 10 of the last 12, in a furious comeback to tie the match at a set apiece.

After the Aggies also lost the third set, it seemed that a sure NMSU victory would turn into an easy Arizona State win.  But the resilient Aggies did not throw in the towel and came back to win a tight fourth set that included 12 ties and six lead changes.  The final tie came at 18-18, but NMSU captured eight of the final 10 points to win 25-20 and force the decisive fifth set.

“We had a big lead in set number two and let it slip away,” Jordan said. “But again, we were really impressive at times.”

The final set had ties at 3-3, 4-4, 5-5, 6-6 and 7-7.   Yet, from that point on, it would be all Arizona State.

The Aggies have little time to ponder the thrilling loss as they still have one more match in Colorado Springs.  NM State faces Montana on Sunday beginning at 11 a.m. (MT) to conclude play at the Falcon Classic.

Box score: No. 16 Arizona State 3, New Mexico State 2