COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Texas A&M avenged its Southeastern Conference season-opening loss at Alabama, defeating the Crimson Tide, 25-20, 18-25, 27-25, 25-16, tonight at Reed Arena.
Freshman outside hitter Hollann Hans had 16 kills, and junior outside hitter Kiara McGee added 14 as the Aggies won their fourth consecutive match and also picked up their ninth victory over their last 10 matches to improve to 15-7 overall and 9-2 in SEC matches.
Alabama, which upset A&M, 3-2, on Sept. 23 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, suffered its fourth consecutive loss and dropped to 15-10 overall and 4-8 in conference play, as well as 0-5 all-time in matches played in College Station.
Junior libero Amy Nettles led the Aggies with 18 digs to reach 1,000 digs in her career, with the milestone 18th dig falling in for a kill. Senior defensive specialist Victoria Arenas, the reigning SEC player and defensive player of the week, added 13 digs, and Hans pitched in 10 to record her third double-double of the year.
Junior setter Stephanie Aiple also posted her third double-double of the season, tying her season high with 13 digs and also dishing out 45 assists, giving her 3,119 assists for her career and moving her into seventh place in the A&M career records.
Sophomore middle blocker Kaitlyn Blake, who leads the SEC in blocks per set, had a match-high six blocks to lead A&M to a 9-5 advantage in team blocks. Senior middle Jazzmin Babers added three blocks and moved into a tie for second place in the A&M all-time career records for block assists with 451, five shy of tying the record of 456 held by Cindy Lothspeich (1994-97).
Texas A&M spotted the Crimson Tide a 3-0 lead to start the match, and the Aggies continued to trail, 16-13, before a kill down the line by Hans marked the start of an 8-1 run to give A&M its first lead. The teams traded points before a kill by McGee, followed by an Alabama attack error put the Aggies at set point, 24-19. Alabama’s Krystal Rivers, the national leader in kills and points per set who also lit up the Aggies for 29 kills in the previous meeting, put down her fifth kill of the frame, but the Tide whiffed on its next attack attempt to close out the set.
Alabama, which was outhit, .146 to .053 in the opening set, outhit A&M, .256 to .065, in the second stanza and took advantage of the Aggies’ unforced errors to even the match. Blake and Babers had back-to-back kills to tie the score at 10-10 before Alabama went on a 5-0 run. Senior outside hitter Emily Hardesty ended the rally with consecutive kills to put A&M within 15-12, but it would be the closest the Aggies would get as the Tide kept a lead for the remainder of the set. Alabama later got back-to-back kills and an ace to take its largest lead at 23-16. Hans and Blake combined for a block to end the run, but the teams exchanged points for the remainder of the frame, with Alabama blocking an A&M attack to get the win heading into the intermission.
The Aggies let a 7-3 lead quickly evaporate in the third frame, but they later redeemed themselves in a huge way by fighting off five set points to win the crucial set. Alabama would use a 5-0 run to take its first lead, 13-11, and the Tide would continue to reel off series of points, taking advantage of two A&M miscues to build its largest lead at 21-15. Alabama maintained its six-point advantage and was serving for the set at 24-19 following Rivers’ eighth kill in the stanza when A&M stormed back. Hans got a kill through the block, and Alabama was whistled for a ball-handling error on the ensuing play. Rivers then committed two unforced errors, hitting into the net and hitting long to put A&M within 24-23 and forcing Alabama to call a timeout. Aggie opposite hitter Ashlie Reasor ricocheted a kill off the Alabama block coming out of the timeout as A&M fought off the fifth set point and tied the score at 24-all. The Tide, which was outhit, .293 to .239, then hit wide on the next play to give A&M its first lead since 11-10, and more importantly put the Aggies at set point. Rivers got a kill off the block to tie the score for the sixth time, but McGee powered down a cross-court kill to put the Aggies at set point for the second time. McGee then teamed with Babers to block Rivers for the set-clinching point.
A&M also let a 9-4 lead get away in the fourth set as Alabama went on a 7-1 run to take its first lead at 11-10. McGee got a kill off the block to end the rally, and Reasor followed with a kill to quickly return the lead to the Aggies. Alabama knotted the score at 12-12 before A&M erupted for eight unanswered points, including Nettles’ milestone dig that fell in for a kill to put the Aggies ahead, 20-12. A&M, which outhit Alabama, .469 to .235, took its biggest lead and was serving for the match at 24-16 following an Alabama attack error. Rivers kept the Tide alive, recording her match-leading 24th and 25th kills before Blake closed out the match with her ninth kill of the contest.
A&M outhit Alabama, .225 to .197, for the match and led in kills, 61-53. A&M also led in assists (57-52) and digs (68-62). Alabama led in aces, 4-2, but also committed six service errors while A&M committed three.
Texas A&M continues its four-match homestand against Tennessee on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at Reed Arena. It will be “Superhero Day,” and fans are encouraged to come dressed as their favorite superhero for chances to win Aggie Superman shirts and gear. Fans also will have chances to win Aggie gear and more by playing volleyball bingo. Bingo cards will be available at the marketing kiosk on the concourse.
Every Sunday is “Funday” at Reed Arena. Up to four kids are admitted free with the purchase of one regular-priced adult ticket for that day’s match. All kids are invited to attend the prematch Superhero Zone in the volleyball practice gym. Activities include a Spiderman Velcro wall, a Flash bungee run, a superhero bounce house and superhero arts and crafts.
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 post-match quotes:
TEXAS A&M HEAD COACH LAURIE CORBELLI
On the third-set comeback…
“I didn't really doubt that we could do it; I was just taking it a point at a time. I knew if we could get ourselves a little bit more energy on the floor and just a few more attackers really feeling dynamic. I thought it was a little lethargic at first with the attacking, but as we started to get more and more rhythm and everything…I think that challenge call that we had really helped us…The team vowed to give more energy. We can still do this. We needed more leadership on the floor, and I thought everyone really responded to that and to each other.”
On fighting back in the third set…
“We just made it really tough on ourselves. We haven't really had a match where we struggled like that in a long time. We did give up some points up early up on Missouri and then lost that set, but then it kicked in and we really started rolling. We just couldn't really seem to start the rolling part in this match. It was an odd match. So many times they just go to one player and [Krystal Rivers] is so good and does such a great job for them. I think a lot of it for them depended on how she did. There at the end of that set, she was getting the ball and making the errors. That was really tough on her; that's asking a lot from one player, I think. But that's what she does, she gets 50-60 swings a match. I think we just didn't have a very smooth match, but we still fought through and found a way to win, and that's all I care about right now. Winning is hard at every level against anyone you play, especially in a game like ours where a tiny little mistake is a point for your opponent. That's so amazing about what Hollann [Hans] did with her serving. Went back and didn't change a thing. The girl has ice in her veins when it comes to competition. She is built for competition. I think [Amy] Nettles is, too, in a lot of ways. These two are both really competitive, and they crave competition. Those are two that I would want in the end line because I trust them. I know exactly that they are going to do, what they know they can do well. I was just grateful we were in that rotation. We were able to put a really nice solid block in front of [Krystal] Rivers that she tried to hit around and missed three or four times. I think things just started going our way, and I think that did put a lot of pressure on them.”
On developing backrow attackers …
“I see it developing. Sometimes I think if there's a team that's really picking on Hollann [Hans] defensively and it's a time in the match that we want to put a specialist out there then we’ll do it. Her passing is so solid; we are still working on getting her passing more forward. We made a comment to the team after the third set that we are going to push passes up more and I don't care if they go over right now, especially when Stephanie [Aiple] is front row. All of them made a great change and started pushing the ball up to put us a little more into system. We all know that our passing and defense and our first touch, we live and die by that. It puts us in system and with our attackers. We can't be stopped very easily. To have that as an option when we are getting pulled off the net a little bit or even in system, we play almost three-on-three everyday backrow, so they all can hit back row. We are even trying to look at some of our [defensive specialists], that are not in a libero jersey, that are allowed to swing and hit in the back row. They were all outside hitters in high school. I think we are going to be doing a little bit more of that. I want more weapons if I can get more weapons. Hollann just has a real natural approach to the ball. It doesn't seem to matter what side we put her on, she still finds ways to have success--back row, middle, right side, left side. She's a great candidate for staying in the back row the rest of her career. Defense is so fast. [As] the experience comes, she'll get better and better. But all the other components are there.”
On Alabama’s defense…
“They were playing some phenomenal defense. I don't have the breakdown by set with how many digs they got. They were all over the floor, in fact I got on my team for it. I want to see my players flying across the floor like that. They were in great position. They had scouted us well. They played some beautiful defense. I thought at the end we did outdig them, but I thought at the end when our defense picked up, that's when we started out playing them.”
On the fourth set…
“I think maybe they felt a little more pressure, and we felt a little more relaxed. Ok we are up 2-1, now we can play…We made some decisions on the bench with the chances we wanted to make. Everybody is going to make these changes, right now to what we usually do. I kind of knew deep down we were going to be able to pull this out. I knew we could pull it out. I knew we were a capable team, capable of winning. I just wasn't seeing the typically Aggie team out there, personality-wise and energy-wise. They kept trying to get each other more and more energetic.”
On Krystal Rivers…
“I was going to give her a big hand shake, but I didn't see her afterwards. Eight times against her, maybe seven or eight, and what a player. I have a ton of respect for her. For her 4.0 [grade-point average], for what she has gone through from a health perspective, from the career she's had and how she's led her team for four years, essentially. It's been pretty fun to watch.”
TEXAS A&M FRESHMAN OUTSIDE HITTER HOLLANN HANS
“I was really just trying to stay calm and just play it point by point, not think too much ahead. I was just worrying about that one serve at that moment. I've been really focusing on getting a good toss, so what's going through my head is have a good toss. I just got it in, and the team helped me out and got the point.”
“I'm not really changing anything. Like I said earlier, just get a good toss and get a good contact with it. Nothing really changes much with it, I'm just trying to get the serve over and make it hard for the opponent.”
On becoming a backrow weapon…
“I really enjoy it. It's just another thing we could add to our offense so I'm excited. It's fun to run backrow attacks.”
TEXAS A&M JUNIOR LIBERO AMY NETTLES
On the third-set comeback…
“The odds don't really matter for us or anybody to do in that situation. It just has to do with being mentally ready to be disciplined, focus on the ball and that point. Continuing to do that every single time, and you inch your way back and you beat them.”
On nerves in the third set…
“I think when it got to 24-24, I looked across [the net] and they looked a little tight. Otherwise I think they were trying to get the ‘W’ just like we were.”
On her 1,000th career dig...
“It's cool. It's nice to do things like that. It was never a goal I tried to get; I just go out there and try to do my job the best I can every night. It's cool to come out of this with that. I had no idea [it was a kill] but yeah, that's pretty funny.”
On fighting back for the win…
“It's nice to see what you are made of. It's nice to be able say we got challenged, we can fight back, we have heart. Would I rather just kill a team? Heck yeah.”