COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Texas A&M fell just short in a hard-fought match on Sunday afternoon at Reed Arena, falling to No. 11 Florida 25-14, 27-25, 23-25, 23-25, 15-6.
In one of their best-played sets of the season, the Aggies opened the match by holding the Gators to a season-low 14 points in a 25-point set, breaking the previous low of 16 points scored in Florida’s 3-1 loss against No. 9 Stanford on Sept. 1, the Gators’ most recent loss. A&M got the upper hand early, scoring four consecutive points to take a 7-5 lead. The Gators stayed within two points at 12-10 before A&M tallied eight kills from four different players during an 8-1 run. The Aggies, who outhit the Gators .375 to .088 and were firing on all cylinders with six players posting at least two kills apiece in the set, continued to pull away, later scoring three straight points to go up, 24-13. Florida staved off one set point before the Gators’ third overpass of the frame was pounced on by Lindsey Miller for the set-clinching point.
The Gators held a 3-2 lead in the second set when A&M lefty setter Allie Sawatzky deceptively set the ball over on the second touch for a kill, sparking a five point run by the Aggies. A&M equaled its largest lead at 22-18 before Florida went on a 5-1 run to tie the score at 23-23. A block by Miller and Heather Reynolds put the Aggies at set point, but Florida posted kills over the next two plays to go up 25-24. A&M senior outside hitter Tori Mellinger then put the team on her back, posting three consecutive kills to give the Aggies a 27-25 win and a 2-0 lead in the match.
Florida came back from the intermission and built a 14-7 lead in the third set after scoring six consecutive points, five of which were due to A&M errors. The Aggies, however, later went on their own six-point scoring run to get within 18-17 and stay within striking distance. Florida later led 20-18 when Mellinger got a kill and followed with an ace to knot the score at 20-20. The Aggies were unable to take the lead as Tangerine Wiggs answered with a kill. A&M hit wide on the next play, but the Gators then served into the net to keep the Aggies within 22-21. Florida followed with a kill and a block to be at set point, 24-21. A&M rallied once again as the Gators had another service error and Miller had a kill on the slide attack to get within 24-23, but the comeback fell short as Ziva Recek put down a kill to give the Gators the 25-23 win.
A&M used a three-point run, getting kills by Miller and Sawatzky along with an ace by Alisia Kastmo, to build its largest lead of the fourth set at 17-12. The Gators then erupted for seven consecutive points as the Aggies’ passing hit a rough patch. Mellinger later got a kill through the block and Kastmo followed with a kill from the back row to tie the score at 20-20, but like the third set, the Aggies were unable to take the lead and came up short. The Gators went on a 4-1 run to build a 24-21 lead before Stephanie Minnerly got back-to-back kills, including one that hit the top of the net and narrowly went over and fell on Florida’s side, to put A&M within 24-23. Florida’s Chloe Mann then came through with her sixth kill of the frame to close out the set and force a fifth set.
Florida held a 4-3 lead in the decisive fifth set when A&M experienced some miscommunication and allowed a ball to fall to the floor. The Aggies hit long on the next play as the Gators went ahead, 6-3. Florida served wide but rebounded with back-to-back kills to build an 8-4 lead. Mellinger got a kill on an off-speed attack, but the Gators scored the next four points – three on kills and one following a serve in which the ball hit the tape and barely rolled over for an ace. Mellinger ended the run with a kill, but Mann got a kill and then teamed for a block to put the Gators at set point. Recek followed with her 13th kill to give the Gators their 14th-consecutive victory and keep Florida undefeated in SEC play.
Florida improves to 17-2 overall and 11-0 in the SEC, while A&M drops to 15-5, 7-4.
Mellinger tied her career high and led A&M with 18 kills, and opposite Kastmo and Miller also posted double figures in kills with 17 and 13, respectively, as Sawatzky dished out 50 assists to help A&M to a 70-67 advantage in kills.
A&M had five players reach double figures in digs, with senior libero Megan Pendergast leading all players with 18. Kastmo and Mellinger both pitched in 16 digs, Reynolds had 12 and Sawatzky contributed 10 digs as the Aggies led the Gators, 76-62.
Mellinger and Reynolds tied their career highs with four block assists, tying Minnerly for the team lead.
Mann, who entered the match leading the SEC with a .435 hitting percentage, led the Gators with 19 kills while hitting at a .486 clip. Betsy Smith and Recek added 15 and 13 kills, respectively, and Gabby Mallette added 10. Setter Taylor Brauneis finished with 55 assists and Taylor Unroe led the Gators with 17 digs.
Mann also had a match high six blocks as the Gators posted 11 blocks to A&M’s 8. Both teams hit an identical .267.
A&M hits the road next weekend, taking on defending SEC Western Division champion LSU Friday at 7 p.m. in Baton Rouge and then taking on South Carolina on Sunday in Columbia.
Texas A&M Post-Match Quotes
Coach Laurie Corbelli:
(On the difference of the match)
You’ve got players who are completely capably and you have opportunities to beat at team; we just missed those opportunities. We didn’t take advantage of them. I’m not complaining about the effort. I really do believe the team was well prepared individually. They did a great job of getting themselves ready as a team. They did a great job of trusting the game plan. I’m complimentary of my team. I just don’t know why we struggled in a fifth set against a team that we can battle with, and we can’t finish. I thought set three was the critical set for us when we start off with no kills, and five errors. I don’t know what changed. It’s really hard to know.
We are making errors at the wrong times. They started hitting some shots they hadn’t been hitting, and we struggled defending those. A couple of line shots from the outside were really successful at the end. They are a well-skilled team, a well-coached team, very deserving of No. 11, obviously. It’s just disappointing and makes me a little sick to my stomach that we had every opportunity to make our statement and to have that kind of joy that comes from a win over a ranked team. I do believe my team deserves it based on the work they have put in and the commitment they have, but we failed somewhere. It’s not any one person’s fault. It’s too many unforced errors.
(On the team’s fight)
I felt like every time we were down by three or four or five points, we evened the score eventually, most of the time except set 5. We were down in set three and came back and lose by two. We were leading for most of set four until 17-16. I feel like I should have called a timeout them, but they had just scored two points. I trusted our rotation that we would be able to sideout. They end up getting those two points and tying it at 17 and then went up 20-17. In hindsight I should have called the timeout, but at the time it wasn’t in my gut feeling to call that timeout. The team did their best, and I did my best.
(On Florida’s turnaround)
They started to serve a lot tougher in set four. They were serving really hard and deep, and it really was effective in that rotation because we couldn’t run our fast stuff. When we were getting our offense with our pace, it was really hard for them to defend.
(On Tori Mellinger)
Tori is just such a complete player. She is so incredibly valuable on this team. She may be our most valuable player. Today she played like our most valuable. She is fearless. They served her to start off, and then they realized what a darn good passer she is. She blocks, she serves very tough and very smart and is attacking against a block that is always bigger than she is. She has the guts, the courage and the know-how to get herself out of almost any situation. She was really prepared and determined tonight to get a win.
(On what changed after the first set)
I think we were pretty consistent through sets one and two with our mentality. We didn’t back off at all. They quit doing some things that weren’t working, and Mann, nobody has stopped her this whole season. Even if you know they are going to her, she jumps so high and hits such a severe angle that it’s not easy. It happens so fast. It is very difficult to defend. We slowed her down a few times, but it is tough to stop her.
When their passing got better and they started getting the ball to her more, it started to put a lot more pressure on us. I didn’t think their passing was good in the first set and in the second set as well. Their passing improved a little bit as the match went on, but it still wasn’t like they were in system running three or four options every play. That is what really disappoints me a lot, too, is that we had them right where we wanted them and couldn’t finish. We had them struggling with their passing, taking them out of system. I don’t know that we did it. I think they weren’t pleased with the way their passers executing. They are on the road and passing is the first thing that can be subject.
I applaud Florida. They did a great job coming back and finding a way to win here. I’m just disappointed that we couldn’t hold them off.