GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Texas A&M fell behind quickly in the opening set against No. 3 Florida and was unable to completely recover as the Gators downed the Aggies, 25-9, 25-23, 25-17 tonight at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
It was the ninth consecutive victory for the defending Southeastern Conference champions, as the Gators improve to 14-1 overall and 3-0 in SEC play. A&M, playing its highest ranked opponent of the season, drops to 9-4 overall and 1-1 in league play.
A&M repeatedly struggled with serve receive in the opening set, and Florida quickly jumped out to a commanding 10-1 lead. Unable to run an effective offense, A&M was outhit, .433 to -.107 in the frame, and the Gators cruised to the 25-9 win.
The second set also got off to a menacing start as the Gators opened with three consecutive points. A&M, however, quickly turned things around as Sierra Patrick got kills off the block on consecutive plays to provide a spark for the Aggies. Sullivan followed with her first of five kills in the set, and Mariah Agre followed with an ace to give A&M its first lead in the match, 4-3.
Florida ended the run with a kill down the line, but Sullivan countered with a kill and then teamed with setter Allie Sawatzky to reject a powerful attack by outside hitter Ziva Recek to give A&M its largest lead at 6-4.
Florida then went on a 4-1 run to retake the lead at 8-7. A&M twice tied the score, the last coming at 9-9, before the Gators went on a 5-1 run to build their largest lead at 14-10. The Aggies would chip away at the lead and managed to get within 17-16 following a kill off the block by Angela Lowak. A&M was unable to knot the score, serving long on the ensuing play. Jazzmin Babers and Kaysie Shebeneck blocked a Florida attack to once again put A&M within a point, 18-17, but the Aggies, trying to be aggressive with their serves, served the ball into the net on the next play.
Florida eventually built a 22-19 lead before a kill by Sullivan and an ace by Patrick put A&M within 22-21, forcing Florida to use a timeout. The teams began to trade sideouts, with an off-speed kill by Simone Antwi putting the Gators at set point, 24-22. Babers kept A&M alive with a kill before Gabby Mallette recorded the set-clinching point, giving the Gators a 2-0 lead in the match.
Florida built a 17-11 advantage in the third set before A&M mounted a comeback, getting consecutive kills from Sawatzky, Ashley Vrana and Patrick that put the Aggies within 17-14. Florida called a timeout and came back with five unanswered points to go up 22-14. The teams then exchanged points, with an A&M ball handling error putting the Gators at set and match point, 24-16. Patrick recorded a kill to extend the match before Alex Holston blasted a kill down the right sideline to close out the match.
Patrick led A&M with 11 kills and tied for match-high honors in digs with 11 as she completed her second consecutive double-double and the second of her career. Sullivan finished with nine kills while hitting .368. Kelsey Kinley tied Patrick with 11 digs for the Aggies, and Sawatzky finished with 27 assists, giving her 3,889 for her career and leaving her six assists shy of moving into third place in the A&M all-time records.
Antwi led all players with 12 kills while hitting .643 to propel the Gators to a .369 to .172 hitting percentage advantage and a 45-34 lead in kills.
The Aggies continue their SEC road swing Sunday, taking on South Carolina in Columbia, S.C. First serve against the Gamecocks is slated for 1:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m. CT) at the Volleyball Competition Facility. Live audio of the match will be available at AggieAthletics.com with Chelsea Reber and Lindsey Miller calling the action.
Visit AggieAthletics.com for more information on Texas A&M volleyball. Aggie fans also can keep up to date with the A&M volleyball team on Facebook and on Twitter by following @AggieVolleyball.
Texas A&M Quotes:
Head Coach Laurie Corbelli
(On A&M’s early struggles)
“There are so many emotions at play and so much newness with our team that I think in situations like this, it was real similar to Colorado State, just an incredibly tough environment to play in. After we realized that it wasn’t going to go away, towards the end of set one we started to get better passing and were able to do a little bit more offensively. I felt that our confidence start to rise a little. That’s probably what helped us.
(On staying close but being unable to take the lead)
“We were really trying to be aggressive. I think our confidence was up and down the whole night. I saw it in players’ faces and could sense it on the court that they were struggling with believing that they were going to be able to keep the string of points going. Florida transitioned so fast and they had hitters that were not missing much. They just kept attacking, and it kept us on our heels.
“It’s still really hard to see your team not be able to get into their game. You know you can play so much better. It is so frustrating, and they let the frustration build. In set two, we were really starting to come on and find the areas where we were having success and go back to them. We tried changing the lineup in the third set because we were down 0-2 so why not. Why not look at areas where your team needs to exploit the other team better, and we thought we had another solution that might do that. It wasn’t bad; it was just our passing again. They were literally serving bullets at us. If anything we learned that our serving and passing game on the road especially is really suspect. But that is a lot of individual stuff. It is a lot of confidence and gives your team momentum, and if someone goes with any hesitation, it just spreads like wildfire.
“We had glimpses of really nice things. We just couldn’t sustain it, bottom line. Florida is really good. They are No. 2 in the country in hitting percentage. They are going to get a ton of kills, and you can’t sit back and wait for them to make an error. They don’t make many errors, especially at home. That is where I was more disappointed is that if we would have put up our normal numbers somehow, it would have been a much more exciting match and we’d feel better about it even if we would have lost. We just didn’t put up the numbers at all, and that was the disappointing part. But I really believe in this team. I know we are going to rebound. I feel sorry for the next team, because we are going to fight to get back to normal and even better right away.”