Camille Conner set the ball on a plate for middle blocker Mallory Talbert, whose spike landed just inside the back line to cap off Texas A&M volleyball’s best week since coach Laura “Bird” Kuhn arrived in January 2018.
The Aggies knocked off No. 24 Missouri 25-21, 25-21, 16-25, 25-22 on Sunday at Reed Arena less than 48 hours after they left Lexington, Kentucky, with a four-set victory over No. 15 Kentucky.
“Definitely since we have been here,” Kuhn said of the latest run being the biggest with her at coach. “Yes and no, you could see this coming. This team battles, and it started last year with the culture, and they bought in. Their personalities, they just want it, and that was never in question, but for them to start finishing and feeling that finish, that is when you have the belief to the core, and that is what they have now.”
Including a victory over Georgia the previous week, the Aggies picked up their third straight victory over a team that was in front of them in the Southeastern Conference when the calendar flipped to November. A&M (16-5, 8-3) is fourth in the SEC, while Missouri (14-6, 6-4), which lost to first-place Florida in five games on Friday, dropped to fifth place.
“It’s huge just to show the work that we have been putting in, for our confidence and everyone seeing what we can do,” A&M senior outside hitter Hollann Hans said. “It’s been a huge week, and we are super thankful to come out with two wins.”
Hans, as she usually does, played a huge part in the victory with a match-high 21 kills. She hit at a .311 clip, which was nearly double that of Missouri’s kill leader Kylie Deberg, who had 14.
“Hollann being our go-to, she is one of the best teammates and biggest team players and that is why our team chemistry is the way it is,” Kuhn said. “Camille will demand and lead, and we have players that step up and do their jobs.”
The Aggies had to step up in the first set falling behind 19-14, before going on an 11-2 run to win 25-21.
Missouri had three violations in the run, but it was a combined block by Treyaunna Rush and Makena Patterson of Leketor Member-Menah that forced a Missouri timeout and another block by Rush and Talbert of Deberg that won the set.
Rush and Patterson each had a match-high four block assists.
A more routine 25-21 victory put the Aggies up 2-0, but Missouri answered with a 25-16 victory to extend the match.
“Setting the tone and then allowing a team to get back into it like we did in set 3, that is what we have to get better at now,” Kuhn said. “That’s our next challenge, but still we responded. In the fourth set there were big moments and I’m just proud of the way they kept responding and fighting. It was a battle and we earned those points.”
Two of those big points came with Hans, the senior all-SEC performer, registering kills from the back row. The first was with her patented quick arm swing and the other, two points later, with the touch that found a hole between the front and back lines of defense.
“Most definitely [most fun had] and it really helps because we all love each other and we play for each other,” Hans said. “We are super confident in our abilities and we know that these two games are huge but we know we have to get back to work and get ready for the games ahead.”
The Aggie defense matched Missouri in blocks with eight and had 56 digs to the Tigers 43. Allison Fields led the way with 19. She was the only player with double-figure digs.
“Our goal is to keep the ball off the floor as much as we can,” Fields said. “We want to beat them with our digs and a huge person that takes on that role is Camila [libero Gomez]. She is just always going for the ball working hard and you want to do the same thing for her.”
The Aggies will look to extend their win streak to six straight with a win at home against Arkansas on Friday.