The Florida and Texas A&M volleyball teams took momentum swings to the extreme in a Southeastern Conference match Sunday afternoon.
Despite being outscored 59-32 during one stretch and trailing 9-3 in the deciding set, the No. 14 Gators found a way to defeat the Aggies 25-23, 25-23, 14-25, 15-25, 15-12 and walk away from a crowd of 3,013 by handing A&M its first defeat in seven matches at Reed Arena.
“Once we switched sides [when a team reaches eight points in the fifth set], they got those two quick points because our passing put us out of system, and that’s when that doubt creeps in and you can see it,” A&M coach Laura “Bird” Kuhn said. “The momentum flipped when we switched sides and with the challenges and the delay, and then our passing kind of changed.“
Florida scored nine straight points, matching an A&M run in the third set, to go up 12-9 in the final game and then traded points with the Aggies to close out a match that at first appeared would end in three sets with a Florida sweep and then took on the tone of the Aggies running the Gators off the floor.
“Quite the swings,” Florida coach Mary Wise said. “The first two sets could have gone either way, and then Texas A&M responded very well. Texas A&M in system is one of the best offenses in the league, and finally, we had a server go back and put some pressure on their serve receive. It was more like we finally made plays. We went through such a long stretch without killing balls, without blocking balls, not making plays, and the momentum was certainly on A&M’s side, felt like a tidal wave.”
With Paige Hammons serving, the Gators won four points with kills, four with blocks and another with an A&M hitting error. One of the blocks was ruled out, but the Gators challenged and it was ruled the ball hit the line.
Florida’s Thayer Hall, who led the Gators with 18 kills, got the final three points for Florida (13-3, 4-1).
“We showed that we can execute and play, but we have to finish, and that’s where we are at,” Kuhn said. “We are sitting on the brink of it when it comes to finishing.”
A&M (11-5, 3-3) is 2-4 in five-set matches.
In the third set, the Aggies got off to a 13-3 lead and were up 14-7 in the fourth set. Their 25-14 and 25-15 victories were far cries from the first two sets, which Florida won in twin 25-23 scores by winning the final two points in each.
“We had them leave the gym, and we talked out there [in the hall after the second set],” Kuhn said. “We had to change something. They knew they could execute at a higher level, and that was them. This team has proven time and again this season they can execute at a high level when we are focused and keyed in.”
Senior outside hitter Hollann Hans had a match-high 26 kills and was the only player to have an attack percentage of better than .300. No other Aggie reached double figures in the category, although she did get plenty of help in set 3 and 4 with five other players contributing kills. The Aggies also had five different players record a block, and 10 players contributed at least a dig in the sets they won.
“Hollann was terrific the entire match, and it’s one of the reasons she is one of the premier players in the league and playing like a senior,” Wise said. “We couldn’t stop Hollann in the front row, couldn’t stop her in the back row and when she goes back to serve, she’s got a chance to score points. We’ve seen that for four years, and she was the best player on the court today.”
Florida led for most of the first two sets, but each time the Aggies pulled even at 23-23, only to have the Gators call a timeout and win the next two points. In the opening set, Hans, who had half of A&M’s six aces, was long with a serve, and then Hammons clinched it with a kill. Florida went up 2-0 in games with two blocks, the first of Treyaunna Rush, who was second in kills along with setter Camille Conner with nine, and then on Hans, who was forced to take an awkward swing at the ball.
“There definitely were moments that we will hang our hat on, but there moments we would just as soon throw the hat away,” Wise said. “When we play them again in November, we’ll expect another great battle.”
Neither team had a high hitting percentage, with A&M at .175 and Florida at .147. Both teams finished with 16 blocks. Florida was led by 6-foot-8 senior Rachael Kramer with two solo blocks and seven assist blocks, and A&M had one solo block and eight assist blocks by junior Makena Patterson.
The Aggies shared the wealth defensively and finished four digs ahead of the Gators with 63. Camila Gomez had 15, Allison Fields 13 and Conner and Hans each had 10.
“[Florida] is a good team, and the SEC is a solid league, and it’s going to be like that every night,” Kuhn said. “You have to play the game, not the name, and we have talked about that multiple times this season.”
A&M plays at Mississippi State on Friday and Ole Miss on Sunday before returning home against Georgia on Oct. 27.