COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Texas A&M’s upset bid against No. 5 Florida came up short as the Gators narrowly escaped Reed Arena with a hard-fought 24-26, 25-23, 25-8, 24-26, 16-14 victory this afternoon.
The youthful Aggies (11-10, 3-7 SEC), who lost in three sets at Florida earlier this season, showed significant improvement in all aspects of the game while pushing the Gators to their first five-set match of the season. Florida (22-2, 11-1 SEC) narrowly persevered behind All-American senior middle blocker Chloe Mann’s match-leading and career-high 22 kills, as well as the effective serving of junior libero Taylor Unroe, whose sixth ace of the match clipped the top of the net and fell in untouched to close out the Gators’ victory.
Sophomore outside hitter Angela Lowak led A&M with 18 kills while hitting .406. Sophomore middle blocker Shelby Sullivan hit .387 with 15 kills, one shy of her career high, and sophomore opposite hitter Sierra Patrick added 11 kills. Senior setter Allie Sawatzky dished out 48 assists as the Aggies hit .253.
Defensively, A&M senior libero Heather Reynolds led all players with 18 digs. Freshman outside hitter Emily Hardesty, who had a career-high eight kills, contributed 11 digs, and senior defensive specialist Kelsey Kinley also reached double figures in digs with 10. Freshman Jazzmin Babers led A&M in blocks with three.
There were 11 ties and three lead changes in the decisive fifth set. The Aggies, who outhit Florida, .429 to .400 in the final frame, used 5-1 run to build their largest lead, 12-9. Alex Holston then tooled the Aggie block for her 21st kill of the match, and Ziva Recek followed with a kill off the Aggie block to put the Gators within 12-11. Patrick countered with a kill, but Mann answered with a kill and Gabby Mallette added a solo block to tie the score at 13-13. Mann was called for a lift on the ensuing play, putting A&M at match point, but she quickly rebounded, getting a kill to tie the score, 14-14, and send Unroe to the service line. The Aggies were unable to control Unroe’s first serve, putting Florida at match point. The junior then got the lucky roll off the tape to secure the win for the Gators.
A&M took the early lead to open the match, holding off Florida’s comeback attempt for the 26-24 first-set win. The Aggies, who outhit the Gators .400 to .371 in the set, equaled their largest lead of the stanza at 22-18 following a kill by Sullivan and an ace by Hardesty, but Florida outscored A&M, 4-1, to tie the score at 23-23. Lowak recorded her fourth kill to put the Aggies at set point, but Recek got a kill to even the score once again. Recek committed an attack error on the next play, and Patrick secured the win with her fourth kill.
A&M let a 16-9 lead slip away in the second set, as Florida scored six unanswered points to get within a point, 16-15. Sullivan ended the rally with a kill on the slide attack, and Lowak followed with a kill as A&M went up, 18-15. Florida, which outhit A&M, .188 to .152, then outscored A&M, 6-2 to take its first lead since 5-4. Lowak hammered a kill down the line to tie the score at 21-21 but the Aggies were unable to regain the lead as Mallette posted a kill and A&M’s next attack sailed long. Hardesty and Patrick had back-to-back kills to tie the score for the seventh and final time, 23-23, before Mann closed out the set with consecutive kills.
The third set was all Florida as the Gators raced to a 14-2 lead and never looked back. Florida hit a blistering .545, while A&M hit .037, gave up six aces and was held to its fewest total points in a set this season.
The Aggies regrouped and scored seven consecutive points to jump out to a 10-5 lead in the fourth set. A&M went on to build its largest lead at 17-11 before Florida began to rally. The Gators, who were outhit .297 to .244, had cut the deficit to 21-17 when they unleashed four consecutive kills to tie the score at 21-all. The teams then began to trade points before Florida took the lead and was serving for the match following an ace by Recek that put the Gators up, 24-23. Lowak kept the Aggies alive by tooling the block to record her sixth kill of the set and tie the score for the eighth time. Mallette then committed back-to-back attack errors, giving A&M the 26-24 win to even the match at 2-2 and force the fifth set.
This was the second five-set match for the Aggies this season and it marked the second time A&M lost to a top-10 team by two points in the fifth set this season, as No. 7 Michigan also used a match-ending ace to escape with a 15-13 victory in the final set at Reed Arena on Sept. 13. This was the second consecutive match in which the Aggies took the Gators to five sets in College Station.
A&M travels to Mississippi next week, taking on Mississippi State Friday at 7 p.m. in Starkville and facing Ole Miss Sunday at 1:30 in Oxford.
Visit AggieAthletics.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 by following @AggieVolleyball.
Texas A&M Quotes:
Head Coach Laurie Corbelli:
(On the fifth set)
“Obviously it was a heartbreaker that we didn’t get those last two points, but it wasn’t just those two points. We had some opportunities to go up to 14. At the same time, I am incredibly proud of the effort the team put in. More than anything, I noticed individual preparation for today’s match was better than it has been in the past. As a result, the whole focus of the team was really visible in the start of the match. We were focused. We were executing. We were confident. That’s how we can play when everybody is ready. I’m really proud of the performance.”
(On Florida libero Taylor Unroe, who had six aces, including one to clinch the match)
“She does a great job. It is a beautiful serve. We have two young players out there that did beautiful jobs fighting it all night long.”
(On the team’s preparation for match)
“To be perfectly honest, we didn’t do anything different. We train our kids in the areas where we think we will get what we need most at game time. They learn to make adjustments in practice, and they use them in games. They study opponents and then they focus on themselves. That’s just what we do. We didn’t change anything about our preparation in terms of volleyball. The team’s focus was pretty sharp.”
(On Heather Reynolds at libero)
“Middle-backs have to do a lot of reading. You can shift right or left a little on certain hitters. You can watch what happens with the block in front of you. You are the farthest digger from the attacker most often. You get the whole view of the court in front of you to help you make your decisions. She’s doing a beautiful job of that. Also, she is very vocal. She’s a really stern competitor. She’s very demanding on the court with where she thinks her wing diggers need to adjust to help her or the defense out. She’s not afraid to speak up a lot. We needed more vocal leadership on the floor in the past. I think we are starting to get it from Heather.”
(On third set loss)
“We could have just crawled under the bench and quit. I didn’t think that this team would do that. I know these girls too well, and that’s not them. That was just a serving phenomenon back there at the time, and we didn’t have a great matchup against it then. It also happened right after the break. I think the team was frustrated after losing set two. The challenge was to change our mindset and get back to fighting once we got out of the third-set mess. To come back and win the fourth set 26-24 was really extraordinary. I was extremely proud of them for that.”
Sophomore Outside Hitter Angela Lowak
(On playing well defensively)
“I think a lot had to do with our preparation before the match. We’ve been working a lot on hitting different shots and just been working really hard in the gym. I think this is the first time and Laurie [Corbelli] said it but she sees it every day in practice that our defense is just awesome in practice. It challenges our hitters all the time, and this is the first time that it showed up in game and we were able to perform.”
(On Florida libero Taylor Unroe’s serves)
“There was that third set that she did awesome. We came out in the fourth set and we handled the issue so well I thought. We were passing nails.”
(On hitting at different angles)
“I think it’s important in any game. We have practiced a lot and we’ve worked hard. We did this little drill that has helped tremendously. John’s [Corelli] been talking a lot about just taking risks and getting uncomfortable. I think that’s what it was all about and staying relaxed at the same time.”
Senior libero Heather Reynolds
(On the fight of the team)
“It’s something you kind of sign up for when you start playing college athletics. The ball was in their favor tonight I guess. Losing with the ball rolling over the net is better than us not fighting at all. We fought the whole entire match Third set we kind of fell off a little bit, but as a young team being able to turn it around and fight the fourth and fifth sets, that shows a lot about this team.”
(On the defense and taking on a new position at libero)
“One thing we did a lot of work on this week is blocking. What a lot of people don’t realize is that if you have a good block, your defense behind in the backcourt is going to look a lot better. We started off the game and I know Angela [Lowak] got two great blocks to start it off on the right-side attack, and being able to stop one of their best hitters is big. We took away one of her favorite shots and then just filled in the hole for rest of the match.”
(On Florida middle blocker Chloe Mann)
“We knew coming into the game that she was going to be a huge threat offensively. Basically as a defensive player you’re thinking, ‘Wherever the ball goes I’m going to go.’ She’s going to get some kills, but we’re also going to get our digs.”
(On Florida libero Taylor Unroe’s serves)
“We tried to make a lot of adjustments. We even went into passing four because we were struggling so much with it. Laurie [Corbelli] was saying that she is one of the best servers in the nation. Although she did ace us quite a few times, we responded in the best way that we knew how. We still sided out pretty well I think.”
(On the fifth set)
“I thought with every fiber in my body that we were going to take that match. I had no doubt.”