COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- No. 15 Texas A&M saw its season come to an end with a 25-22, 25-19, 25-20 loss to seventh-ranked Hawaii in the second round of the NCAA Tournament tonight at Reed Arena. The Aggies, who entered the match having won 15-consecutive matches to mark the program's longest winning streak since 1982, finish the season 24-7.
A&M, the No. 10 seed in the 64-team tournament and an automatic qualifier representing the Southeastern Conference after winning its first-ever conference championship, was making its fourth appearance in the NCAA second round in the last five years after sweeping Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Friday.
Hawaii, which had fallen in the second round each of the last three years and struggled in a first-round 3-2 victory against TCU on Friday, improves to 28-1 with its 23rd consecutive win. The Rainbow Wahine, who have appeared in 34 of 35 NCAA Championship tournaments and have three national championship titles, will face two-time defending champion Penn State in the round of 16 on Friday at the Des Moines Regional.
The opening set was the most tightly contested one of the night with four lead changes and eight ties. The score was knotted at 7-7 before A&M went on a 5-1 run, with an ace by junior outside hitter Emily Hardesty giving the Aggies their largest lead at 12-8 and forcing renowned Hawaii coach Dave Shoji to call a timeout. The Rainbow Wahine were within 15-12 before outscoring A&M, 6-1 to take the lead for good. Hawaii would go on to build its largest lead at 23-19 following back-to-back A&M miscues before A&M junior redshirt middle blocker Jazzmin Babers put down a kill to put A&M within 23-20. Nikki Taylor countered with a kill to put Hawaii at set point, but a kill by A&M freshman Kaitlyn Blake and a Hawaii ball handling error put the Aggies within 24-22. Emily Maglio then posted her sixth kill of the frame to seal the win for Hawaii, which outhit A&M, .359 to .265 in the set.
A&M spotted the Wahine a 5-1 lead to start the second set but fought back to tie the score at 8-8 on a kill by Hardesty and again at 9-9 on a kill by opposite hitter Ashlie Reasor. The Aggies, who were outhit, .412 to .250, tied the score for a third and final time at 11-all after sophomore setter Stephanie Aiple and senior middle blocker Shelby Sullivan teamed for a block, but A&M was unable to grab the lead.
The Aggies trailed by only a point at 17-16 before Hawaii slowly began to pull away as Kalei Greeley finished the set 6-for-6 in attack attempts and Taylor also added six kills without an error to lead the Wahine to a 25-19 win and a 2-0 lead in the match.
Hawaii held a 4-3 lead in the third set before surging to a 13-5 lead, forcing A&M to call a timeout. The Aggies responded coming out of the timeout, erupting for five unanswered points, including two kills by Reasor, an ace by sophomore libero Amy Nettles and a kill and a solo block by Blake to put A&M within 13-10. A&M, however, was unable to undo the deficit, and the Wahine later used a 5-1 rally to build their largest lead at 21-14.
Hawaii, which outhit A&M, .273 to .135 in the set and .349 to .214 for the match, maintained the seven-point advantage at 22-15 before Babers had three kills during a 4-1 surge by the Aggies to get within 23-19. Hawaii then blocked an A&M attack to be at match point, 24-19, but a service error extended the match before Olivia Magill put down the match-winning kill.
Babers and Sullivan led the Aggies with 10 kills apiece. Sullivan hit .381 for the match and completes her stellar career with a record-setting .378 career hitting percentage, smashing the previous longstanding record of .342 held by former two-time All-American middle blocker Sherri Brinkman since 1985.
Meanwhile, Babers, who has played in all 92 matches of her career, finishes with a .414 season hitting percentage to break the school season record of .400 set by Brinkman in 1984 and tied by Babers last year.
Aiple, the SEC Player of the Year, posted 30 assists and also pitched in four kills without an error. For the season, she directed an offense that hit .273, the second highest season hitting percentage in school history.
Nettles had a team-high 10 digs to complete the season with a career-best 16-consecutive double-digit dig performances. She finishes the season with 444 total digs, placing her seventh in the A&M all-time season records for most digs.
Taylor led Hawaii with 14 kills, and Greeley and Magill contributed 10 kill apiece. Magill also had a match-high five blocks to lead Hawaii to a 6-5 team edge. Libero Savanah Kahakai led all players with 19 digs.
In addition to Sullivan, the match marked the end of a career for senior co-captain Angela Lowak. The inspirational outside hitter and team leader had suffered a dislocated knee cap at Florida State on Sept. 18 but worked her way back onto the court and had two kills in a brief appearance on the home court against A&M-Corpus Christi in the NCAA first round on Friday.
Head Coach Laurie Corbelli
"Well obviously we're disappointed it wasn't quite our night. Hawaii had a relatively--in our eyes anyway--flawless night, and we're incredibly proud of the season we've had and even though this stinks, we will always be proud of the things that we did accomplish this season."
On Hawaii being able to go to anyone tonight...
"Yeah, I think that's possible. They produced 18 kills in set one and we only produced 12 or 11, and I think that possibly had us wondering if we were going to be able to get our offense going. It wasn't really a team attack that we're used to. It was I don't know at times it was individual, at times where we really needed it to be a team attack, with our attack."
On playing one day after playing Texas A&M-Corpus Christi affecting performance...
"No, not really. They play a very similar style to us, they just executed flawlessly like I said. I mean their middles really got going early and hit some really difficult shots to defend. I thought some of the early shots they had we should have taken easier. They were doing some off-speed work out of the middle to start the match and kind of had us all sucked in and trying to take those, and then they went to attacking deeper and it was a great game plan and they just touch really high. Those kids do a really nice job especially (Olivia) McGill. I thought she just had a really, really nice match and a very consistent match and made it very difficult for our defense to know where be to defend her."
On what changed for Hawaii from the first-round match against TCU...
"I thought last night that personally they know they struggled. TCU was running circles around them and they had to grind out the entire two-and-a-half hours to win that match. Just from all my years in sports and in volleyball you know it's possible they got that out of their system and they came and they got focused and knew what they had to achieve. We run a totally different system than TCU, we have totally different players and we do what they do kind of. I mean it's not unfamiliar in any way what we do, maybe the pass back attack behind the setter is something that obviously Hawaii doesn't run that, and other than that, every night's different. These are college women that give their best every day, and today our best just wasn't as good as it typically is."
On what the team accomplished this season...
"You know this was a special year and I think it would be easier to really, share that sentiment after another 24 hours to tell you the truth, but we're really proud of our work, of the grinding. We just put in so much this season. From the players to the staff to the SID and the trainers and the strength coach, I mean everybody that's involved in the program it was on the top of their list to get their stuff done, get it done and do it the best they can, so it was really a special year, one of the most special years in my career and mostly it's because of the kids. My friend (Debbie Brown) that's been with us for three weeks as a volunteer said she couldn't believe the level of commitment that my players have to Texas A&M volleyball. She's been in college coaching over 30 years and she just said the level of commitment and the pride they have to represent this university is so evident, and that's about all I can ask is be committed, be honorable, do the work you say you're going to do and we just go from there. That's the foundation that we try to encourage for our program, and they did exactly what we asked so really proud and we're all really exhausted."
Senior middle blocker Shelby Sullivan
On the loss...
"I agree with what Laurie said and they played a great game and we tried to get it going and couldn't come out as strong as we have been in the past and we tried really hard but it wasn't in our favor tonight."
On if Hawaii digging A&M's shots frustrated the team...
"No, definitely not. It just made me more excited to get to try different shots and mix it up and try new things to show that okay I'm going to come at you even harder, and that's the mindset that everyone on our team has."
On what the team achieved this season...
"I'm so thankful for this team and for the last year of my volleyball career, getting to play with them and all the support we have for each other on and off the court and from the whole coaching staff and support staff and just everything Texas A&M volleyball has given me and Angela (Lowak, senior outside hitter). We are so grateful and thankful to everyone."