COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- No. 25 Texas A&M celebrated Senior Day with a thrilling 20-25, 19-25, 25-22, 25-22, 15-11 come-from-behind victory over defending Southeastern Conference champion and 14th-ranked Florida this afternoon in front of 2,437 at Reed Arena.
A&M's first-ever victory in 12 all-time meetings against the Gators couldn't have come at a better time. With the win, the Aggies (21-6, 14-2 SEC) extend their win streak to 12, and more importantly they maintain a one-game lead atop the SEC standings heading into a showdown against second-place Missouri (25-4, 13-3 SEC) on Wednesday in Columbia, Mo. A&M, which would secure at least a share of the SEC championship with a victory against the Tigers, closes out the regular season at Arkansas on Saturday.
Florida, whose 3-0 home win against A&M on Oct. 9 marks the last time the Aggies suffered a defeat, falls to 21-6 and closes out SEC play 13-5.
Florida used a 4-0 run early in the opening set to build a 5-2 lead. A&M, which was outhit .290 to .156 in the frame, was unable to catch the Gators, who equaled their largest lead at 20-15 following a solo block by Simone Antwi. A&M would twice get within three points, the last coming at 23-20 following a kill be sophomore opposite hitter Ashlie Reasor. A&M served long on the next play to put the Gators at set point. The Aggies were unable to set up an attack on the ensuing play, and Florida took the set, 25-20, ending a 21-set home winning streak by the Aggies.
The Gators also used a 4-0 spurt early in the second set to create an 8-4 cushion and building a lead they would not lose. Florida, which outhit A&M, .367 to .154 in the set, kept its four-point margin at 15-11 before a kill by Reasor and a block by senior middle blocker Shelby Sullivan and freshman outside hitter Kaitlyn Blake put the Aggies within 15-13. The teams began to trade points, and A&M was within 18-16 before the Gators ended a long rally with a kill and A&M hit wide to put Florida up, 20-16. Aggie sophomore outside hitter Kiara McGee tooled the Gator block to put A&M within 20-17 before Florida reeled off three unanswered points with two kills and an ace. The teams then traded point-for-point for the remainder of the frame with Rhamat Alhassan closing out the 25-19 win for the Gators with a kill and giving Florida a 2-0 lead in the match.
Florida used a 6-0 run to take its first lead of the third set at 16-13. A&M chipped away and got within 17-16 before the Gators used a 3-0 burst to build a 20-16 advantage. As quickly as it appeared Florida was primed to pull away for the victory, A&M began to catch fire and make its comeback. Florida was whistled for reaching over, and Reasor followed with a kill. Aggie sophomore defensive specialist Gabby Litwin then put A&M within 20-19 with an ace, forcing Florida to call a timeout.
A&M continued to score following the timeout as Blake and junior middle blocker Jazzmin Babers teamed for a block, and Blake followed with a kill to give the Aggies the lead, 21-20. Florida, which outhit A&M, .176 to .129 in the stanza, tied the score at 21 and again at 22 but then served long to give the Aggies a 23-22 lead. Blake put down a kill to put the Aggies at set point, and Sullivan and sophomore setter Stephanie Aiple capped the win by blocking the Florida attack.
A&M carried that momentum through the remainder of the contest, outhitting the Gators a combined .373 to .226 in the final two frames.
The Aggies outhit the Gators, .395 to .256 and never trailed in the fourth set, using a 6-1 run to break away from a 7-7 tie. As soon as Florida got back within a point at 15-14, A&M used a 5-1 rally to equal its largest lead at 20-15. The Gators got within 21-19, with two of the points courtesy of A&M miscues, but McGee's crosscourt shot found the floor to end Florida's 3-0 run. The teams began to sideout, with junior outside hitter Emily Hardesty putting the Aggies at set point with a kill. Alhassan kept the Gators alive with a kill before Reasor came through with the set-clinching kill, evening the match at 2-2, and sending the contest to a decisive fifth set.
The Aggies entered the final frame with a 5-0 record in 5-setters, while Florida was 0-4 when going the distance, including a loss to Missouri after winning the opening two sets. The score was knotted at 5-5 when Blake got a kill and Sullivan followed with a well-placed tip kill to the open sideline to put A&M up, 7-5. Florida would get back within 7-6 and 8-7 before McGee took over, getting a kill and teaming with Babers for back-to-back blocks against reigning SEC Player of the Year Alex Holston.
Florida got a kill and a block to cut the lead to 11-9 before Babers teamed with Aiple for a block and then put down a Gator overpass for a kill to put A&M up, 13-9. Babers continued to score following a Florida timeout, strategically punching the ball over the Gator defense and landing the ball just inside the back line for her fourth kill of the set and to putting the Aggies at match point, 14-9.
Holston put down a kill and then combined with Alhassan for a block before Reasor and Babers blocked an attack by Ziva Recek to close out the match and set off the celebration.
McGee led A&M with 19 kills, one shy of her career high, and she tied her career high with five blocks. Babers added 17 kills while hitting .406 and tallied her second double-double of the season with a match-high 10 blocks. Aiple posted her team-leading seventh double-double of the season with 53 assists and 10 digs. Sophomore libero Amy Nettles and junior defensive specialist Katelyn Labhart extended play after play, with Nettles scooping up a team-high 16 digs, and Labhart posting a career-high 15 digs.
Alhassan led a quartet of Gators in double-digit kills with 16 while hitting .577 and also added a team-high six blocks. Setter Mackenzie Dagostino had 55 assists and a team-high 16 digs.
Florida led A&M in kills (65-63), hitting percentage (.255 to .230), assists (62-58) and points (84-83, while A&M led in digs (61-58) and blocks (15-14). Both teams recorded five aces each.
The match marked the final regular season home match for the Aggies, who honored Sullivan and senior outside hitter Angela Lowak following the match.
A&M closes out the regular season at Missouri and Arkansas on Wednesday and Saturday, respectively. First serve against the Tigers is at 6:30 p.m. at Hearnes Center in Columbia, Mo., and the match against Arkansas, which defeated A&M at Reed Arena in the SEC opener on Sept. 27, begins at 1:30 p.m. at Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville. Both matches will be broadcast on SEC Network +.
The 64-team NCAA Championship bracket will be announced Sunday, Nov. 29 at 8 p.m. on ESPNU.