COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Texas A&M pushed No. 5 Penn State to the brink, but the Aggies’ upset bid fell short as the Nittany Lions pulled away for a 3-2 (24-26, 25-29, 25-23, 24-26, 15-12) victory today at Reed Arena.
With both teams playing in their first five-set match of the season, A&M (2-1) held the momentum early in the decisive final set, using a 5-0 run to build an 8-5 lead. The teams then changed sides and the momentum also changed as Penn State quickly reeled off seven unanswered points to take a 12-8 advantage. Aggie sophomore outside hitter Hollann Hans ended the run with a kill from the back row, and junior middle blocker Kaitlyn Blake and freshman opposite hitter Samantha Sanders teamed for a block to put A&M within 12-10, forcing Penn State to call a time out. The Nittany Lions got back-to-back kills coming out of the timeout and were at match point, 14-10, but the Aggies stayed alive as Blake put down a kill and Penn State committed an attack error to put A&M within 14-12. Senior All-American outside hitter Simone Lee then came through with her match-high 30th kill to secure the victory for the Nittany Lions, who improved to 5-0.
Freshman setter Camille Conner was outstanding in the Aggies’ first match against a ranked opponent this season, tallying the first triple-double of her young career with 43 assists, 12 kills and 12 digs while directing a balanced attack that had four players reach double figures in kills. Hans finished with a career-high 28 kills while hitting .328, and she led a group of four Aggies that posted double-figure kills. Blake contributed 12 kills, and senior outside hitter Kiara McGee added 11 kills as the Aggies kept pace with Penn State, which narrowly led in kills, 71-68, while outhitting A&M, .325 to .299.
Blake also recorded a match-high seven blocks, and Conner added five to help lead A&M to an 11-9 lead in team blocks.
While the Aggies’ net play was impressive, their backcourt play was also notable with junior defensive specialist Amy Houser scooping up a career-high 14 digs. Senior defensive specialist Gabby Litwin added 12 and senior libero Amy Nettles recorded 11 digs to lead A&M to a 63-59 edge in team digs.
The Aggies got off to a hot start and held a 17-15 first-set lead before PSU went on a 4-0 run to take its first lead of the match. The Nittany Lions, who outhit A&M, .394 to .379 in the set, continued to lead at 21-19 when Conner put up a nifty one-handed set that Sanders put down for a kill. Conner then tied the score when her desperation dig sent the ball over the net and in for a kill. The teams also were tied at 22-22 before PSU got a kill and A&M was whistled for being in the net, putting the Nittany Lions at set point. Hans then carried the Aggies to victory, starting with a hard kill down the line. She then stepped to the service line, and her serve hit the tape at the top of the net and rolled over for an ace. Freshman middle blocker Makena Patterson followed with a kill to the open back corner to put the Aggies at set point, and Hans capped the set-ending four-point run with another one of her career-high tying four aces she would record in the match.
The second set was tied at 4-4 when PSU used a 5-0 run and began to pull away. A&M, which was outhit .206 to .132, got within 10-8 before the Nittany Lions went on a 10-3 run to go up, 20-11. The Aggies later used a 3-0 run to get within 22-17 but could get no closer before Lee closed out the set with a kill.
The third set was a back-and-forth affair with 16 ties and nine lead changes. A&M, which had built its largest lead at 7-4 on an ace by Sanders, was trailing 20-19 when McGee got a kill to tie the score. Blake and Sanders returned the lead to the Aggies, 21-20, with a block, and Penn State called timeout. The Nittany Lions, who outhit A&M, .429 to .344, returned to the court and scored four unanswered point to go up 24-21 and take their largest lead in the frame. Hans staved off one set point with a kill through the block, and PSU’s next attack attempt sailed long to put the Aggies within 24-23. Haleigh Washington then clinched the win for PSU with a kill, giving the Nittany Lions a 2-1 lead in the match.
Penn State equaled its largest lead of the fourth set at 15-11 when A&M began to chip away at the deficit. Hans had a kill and an ace to put the Aggies within 18-17 before the teams began to trade point for point. The Nittany Lions held onto a 22-20 lead when Hans came through with back-to-back kills to tie the score for the first time since 4-4. Penn State was whistled for being in the net on the ensuing play, giving the Aggies their first lead since scoring the first point of the set. A&M then served long and Penn State posted a kill to put the Nittany Lions at match point, but Hans put down her ninth kill of the set, and Conner followed with a kill to put A&M at set point. McGee and freshman middle blocker Morgan Davis then secured the win and forced a fifth set with a block.
Texas A&M will get another chance to go against a ranked opponent Sunday morning, playing host to defending national champion and No. 1-ranked Stanford in the final match of the Aggie Classic. First serve will be at 11 a.m. The Cardinal fell to Penn State, 3-1, in the opening match of the tournament on Friday.
It will be “jammies and volleyball” at Reed on Sunday morning. Wear pajamas to the match and visit the Kids Court pre-match to enjoy a “jammin’ jammies” party with interactive fun, prizes and the chance to be part of the Dairy Queen Anthem Buddies. It also is Take a Kid to the Match day in which up to four kids can get in free with the purchase of one full price adult ticket. In addition, bring a purchased volleyball ticket to the 1:30 p.m. soccer game against DePaul and receive free admission.
Visit 12thMan.com for more information on Texas A&M volleyball. Aggie fans also can keep up to date with the A&M volleyball team on Facebook and on Twitter and Instagram by following @AggieVolleyball.
TEXAS A&M HEAD COACH LAURIE CORBELLI
On taking Penn State to five sets…
“I feel like I say it a lot, but the future is so exciting with the young players that we’ve got. It’s just so exciting. The composure they showed and the competitiveness they showed was phenomenal from all of my players. I am so grateful that Penn State came to this gym because we want to win at home all the time, especially in the SEC. We got a chance to go against a great team in our gym and see what it is going to take from us. We’ve got what it takes. We just have to clean up a few things here and there. This showed us exactly the things that we need to work on. I’m so proud of these players and the composure they showed. This is a very fast sport. You have to make decisions on a dime, and for young players that is not easy to do when you are going against five seniors. Those kids have been playing together for a long time, and they are amazing. I was just really impressed with not only the intangibles my team showed, but also the execution.”
On mentality after switching sides in the fifth set…
“I think we got into passing trouble a little. We knew where they were going to set, their best outsides. They got their five-point run after we got a five-point run. The shift of momentum happened. We were really just struggling to figure out how to score that point. It was maybe the most important time in the match. I think that’s finishing, and that’s something that we will learn. I don’t think I am going to have to tell the team to finish, because they witnessed it. They saw it. When we incorporate things for finishing in our drills in practice, they are going to be completely engaged, and we will get it. It just takes a little bit of practice to be that good at that point in time against a team that amazing.”
On how they handled Penn State’s hitters…
“I thought we did okay. Early, it was off and on with the block and our defense. I felt like we started to really get a feel for their attackers, their tendencies, and the power that they hit with. My libero and two defensive specialists are in charge of 90 percent of the first balls that go to the target. They struggled to start the match a little bit off and on, but they really steadied out to get us Set 4. We know when Camille [Conner] is front row and we can put the ball up there, she can attack with the best of them. That was really hard for them, and they couldn’t stop her. They just got more and more confidence. Just learning to finish is really the biggest thing I have in my notes. I really need to help the team learn that.”
On Camille Conner and Hollann Hans…
“Both of these two, I never have to say go hard or go harder. Ever. That’s pretty special as a coach to have. It is going to be a special year, and these two are going to be a big part of that. I couldn’t be happier that it is those two, because I trust them completely and know that they are committed to this program. I know they are passionate about volleyball and winning. They trust us, and we trust them. All of those things are in place to only mean better things ahead. I am really fortunate that the players I have are great people on top of great volleyball players. You never want to quit coaching when you have that.”
TEXAS A&M FRESHMAN OUTSIDE HITTER HOLLANN HANS
On fighting to five sets…
“That was a lot of fun. The fight that everyone had was really great to see. We just came together as a team and played against one of the best teams in the country, so that was just so fun. We could have come out with a win, but I am still so proud of everyone and how the fight was.”
On what this match says about the team…
“It is a great feeling with how young we are and how much potential we have to be so great. We already are playing so great, but as the year goes on I know that we are going to get a lot better. I am just so proud of everyone.
On gaining confidence from this match…
“I think [it gives us confidence]. Just the way we handled ourselves in tough situations. When we were playing the highs and the lows, the way that we kept composure I think is a great thing going forward. I am really excited for the future.”
TEXAS A&M FRESHMAN SETTER CAMILLE CONNER
On mentality heading into the match…
“We just came in and treated it like any other team. We stepped onto the court and had a lot of composure. There were nerves, but nobody showed it. Everyone played with a lot of heart today.”
On being comfortable on the court even as a freshman…
“It really helps in practice going all out, so when I go out onto the court it transfers. Every time I step on the court, I give everything I can to my teammates.”