Colorado Claims Crucial Win Over No. 18 Texas A&M

The University of Colorado volleyball team took a huge step towards a potential NCAA Tournament birth Wednesday night, upsetting No. 18 Texas A&M 3-2; 30-25, 23-30, 31-29, 17-30, 15-13 at the Coors Events Conference Center.

Sophomore outside hitter Maragda Santillana had a game-high 47 attacks, as the Buffs managed a thrilling victory despite being outhit (.230 to .196) and outblocked (19.0 to 16.0) by the Aggies on the night.

"That game was a battle the whole time," Colorado head coach Pi'i Aiu said after the game. "It gives us a win over a ranked team that will help because we're a bubble team right now. It gives us one significant win, at least."

Senior team captain Monique Gerlach surpassed Tina Murray (1987-90) for third place in the school's all-time kills list late in the first game of the match. Gerlach currently owns top 10 spots in a pair of other offensive categories, and is CU's all-time attack percentage leader (.329).

The senior also came up with a huge block late in game five that sealed the upset and Colorado's first win over a ranked opponent in ten tries, dating back to last season's non-conference schedule.

"I think that's the best block I've ever had in my life," a jubilant Gerlach said after the game. "A team like A&M has a really balanced offense, so we knew we had to be on alert for this one."

Colorado maintained a slim two point advantage throughout the first part of game one. Then a series of defensively induced miscues forced the Colorado backcourt to allow the Aggies the room they needed to acquire their first lead of the game, a 15-14 mark that CU would soon earn back. It didn't come easily, though, and A&M kept the set well within reach into the closing minutes of the game, tying the score once more before it concluded. Colorado led by as many as three on four separate occasions in the game's final 10 points, as kills from Santillana found their desired seam each time.

A&M junior outside hitter Melissa Munsch earned her 1,000th career kill late in the game one loss to the Buffs, becoming the 13th player in the history of the school to accomplish the feat, and putting her in position to claim the program mark of 1,038 before the end of the season.

A late 5-0 Texas A&M rally was enough for the Aggies to pull away in the second game of the set, despite the best offensive efforts of Santillana, who was hitting the ball as hard as she had all season. Not surprisingly, the Aggies outhit CU for the first time in the match in game two. A&M worked for a .333 team attack percentage to the Buffaloes' .154.

Game three quickly became a matter of survival for CU as the Aggies scored 11 of the game's opening 15 points. Colorado initially trailed by as many as seven, and found themselves consistently behind by four before Gerlach closed the gap as the game concluded, single-handedly lifting Colorado to a 4-0 run which tied the pivotal set at 22-22. The Buffaloes rallied once again, this time from down 25-28 to take a 29-28 lead following an ace from freshman Austin Zimmerman. The set went overtime and culminated in a phenomenal exchange between the two teams, which saw incredible blocks from A&M's Holly Clay and Santillana finished off by a dramatic tip by sophomore Allie Griffin to seal the vital game for CU.

CU's momentum seemingly vanished just as quickly as it had come to them, as separate Aggie runs of 4-0 and 6-0 highlighted a fourth game dominated by Texas A&M. The visitors hit a match-high .400 as a team, while the Aggies outblocked CU by a stunning 7-1 margin.

The Big 12 rivals traded 4-0 runs to open the fifth game five the teams had played in their past six meetings, and CU was able to maintain a perpetual three point advantage as the set waned. A clutch block from Gerlach capped off a career performance in one of the biggest games of the regular season, allowing Santillana to seal with the upset with one final kill.

Historically Texas A&M's biggest names have been afforded career performances against Colorado, both here in Boulder and College Station. Munsch, easily CU's largest historical menace, tied an all-time school record with six aces in the teams' first meeting of the season on Sept. 24, and set a Big 12 record with 13 solo blocks in A&M's 3-game sweep of the Buffs two seasons ago here in Boulder. Senior outside hitter Carol Price tallied her career-high 23 kills against the Buffs in 2002, while 5-foot-4 junior Lindsay Frantz dug a career-high 11 balls in the teams' first meetings on Sept. 24 for the then No. 25 Aggies.

With easily their biggest win to date this season behind them, Colorado looks ahead to equally important matches against Texas (Nov. 19), Missouri (Nov. 22), and No. 10 Nebraska (Nov. 26).

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