In early September, a switch flipped for Texas A&M middle blocker Makena Patterson. As she hit a plateau offensively, she dedicated her focus on blocking, hoping it would ignite her overall game.
Two month’s later, the Southeastern Conference leader in blocks per set and total blocks stood at the forefront of the No. 25 Aggies’ 25-10, 25-18, 25-13 victory over Arkansas in SEC volleyball action Friday at Reed Arena.
Patterson stuffed eight Arkansas attacks, one off her career high, and had nine kills and a career-high three assists for A&M (17-5, 9-3).
“Just like staying disciplined has been a big thing, [blocking] I think has been my focus more this year than ever before,” Patterson said. “It’s just not guessing and just doing my best to wait, make big moves and just be disciplined.”
Last season, Patterson experienced a lull in blocking, averaging 0.76 blocks per set despite increasing her total blocks by thirty from her freshman season. Now the 6-foot-3 junior leads the SEC at a 1.36 clip per set and entered the match with a league-high 99 total blocks.
“She’s learned how to balance herself and know that if she’s not [playing well] offensively then she needs to turn on blockingwise defensively, and she’s admitted that,” A&M head coach Bird Kuhn said.
Patterson’s rejections were nearly instantaneous Friday as she collected blocks for the Aggies’ first three points. Her fourth of the first set put A&M ahead 16-7, and the Aggies cruised from there.
Arkansas (8-16, 2-10) entered Friday’s contest without being ranked in the nation’s top 150 in a team statistical category. Outside hitter Jillian Gillen was the lone Razorback ranked inside the top 100 in an individual category (attacks per set, kills per set and points per set), and she drew the focus of A&M’s blockers. Gillen had a team-high seven kills, shy of her 3.48 kills per set average.
“We knew who we were keying on, and [Patterson] did a perfect job of shutting their biggest hitter down, so it just made it a lot easier for us in the back row, and it made everything go a little bit smoother,” A&M senior outside hitter Hollann Hans said.
Arkansas took an early lead in the second set thanks to eight Aggie errors in the Razorbacks’ first 10 points. Seven combined kills from Hans and Patterson with three aces helped the Aggies’ rally to win the closest set of the night.
“There were stretches early in the season where we could bleed errors easily, and it happened in the second set a little bit, but they figured it out, felt it and changed it,” Kuhn said.
Hans took control in the third set, registering six kills as A&M put away the match. Hans finished with 13 kills and 10 digs for her 31st career double-double and eighth of the season.
During the quick final set, Patterson put her back row skills on display, setting up three kills from the serving position.
A&M won its sixth straight match, the longest winning streak in Kuhn’s two seasons at the helm and the Aggies’ longest since winning eight in a row in 2016.
“We’re proud of the momentum, in general, just the momentum we’re carrying right now,” Kuhn said. “We don’t really look at the streaks. We’re just thinking about the future and what’s in front of us.”