When the going got tough for the Texas A&M volleyball team Tuesday, the Aggies waited and patience paid dividends.
A&M outlasted former conference mate Oklahoma in a five-set battle 17-25, 25-20, 25-22, 20-25, 15-12 at Reed Arena, showing head coach Bird Kuhn a calm under pressure that should help the Aggies when they begin Southeastern Conference play next week.
“I talked about it a couple of times in the timeouts,” Kuhn said. “I said, ‘Your composure and how you’re playing right now is what’s most impressive,’ because they were getting very sloppy and setting balls over quick.”
The Aggies (8-1) managed to stay within their system when rallies ran long, claiming two momentum-shifting points in the third and fifth sets. Junior setter Camille Connor found reliable targets Hollann Hans and Lauren Davis, who produced season-high nights in kills. Hans, a senior outside hitter, had 29 kills, falling three short of her career high. Freshman outside hitter Lauren Davis set a new career high with 17, including a team-high four in the final set.
While A&M likes to use a quick pace on offense that mixes the middle blockers into the attack, Oklahoma (7-3) keyed on the Aggies’ preferences, which opened up Hans and Davis for cross-court sets.
“It was definitely helpful with some of the slower balls, just because they had a really big block and on some of the faster balls it was hard to find those high ends and deep corners, which is one of the things we were focusing on,” Davis said.
Conner also had a season-high night, dishing out 57 assists. The effort surpassed her previous high of 43 against Texas-Rio Grande Valley. Sophomore defensive specialist Taylor Voss posted a career-high in digs with 18.
“Bird always says we’re a grind team,” Hans said. “I think that showed tonight. Our defense was amazing. They picked up everything, and they gave us good high balls out of system, which allowed us to get aggressive swings out of system.”
The first set began slow for the Aggies, who committed nine attack errors to Oklahoma’s one as the Sooners took a 1-0 lead. A&M struggled to find any attack through Oklahoma’s block.
“It was slow,” Kuhn said. “The energy wasn’t going, like we weren’t in our rhythm, so that’s us controlling and setting the tone — we did not set the tone in the first set. We needed to snap out of it, and in the second we got going. That’s kind of how it felt the rest of the match.”
The Aggies started the second set on a 10-7 run and didn’t allow Oklahoma within four points the remainder of the set.
With momentum on their side and Hans throwing down five kills in the frame, the Aggies battled from a 20-20 tie to take the third set and a 2-1 lead.
After starting on a 7-3 run to open the fourth set, Oklahoma countered with a 7-4 tear in the middle of the set to take the lead thanks to three A&M attack errors. The Aggies ended the set with three service errors and an attack error.
In the final frame, A&M hit .333 to claim its second five-set win of the season.
“The fifth set comes down to playing clean and executing, and we did,” Kuhn said. “And I give props to my assistants, because I wanted to light our team up for missing four serves at the end of set four. And they were like, ‘No, just let it go. We need to just focus on what we need to do.’ And we did.”
Tuesday’s win provides a nice platform for the Aggies as they continue their toughest nonconference week with a road trip to Austin to face No. 3 Texas on Friday. A&M will open conference play against Alabama on next Tuesday at home.
“It’s huge for us,” Kuhn said. “Being at home and being able to close out a good team like that to hit it running at Texas, that’s setting the tone. Yes, you always want to win in four or three, but a win is a win, and when they grind like that and they execute and they know they’ve earned it, that’s huge when you go on the road against your rival.”