DENTON, Texas - No. 16 Texas A&M notched a season-opening 25-14, 25-23 30-28 victory over Nevada today at the North Texas Challenge at the Mean Green Volleyball Center.
Junior outside hitter Kiara McGee led the Aggies with 14 kills while hitting .300, and senior All-American middle blocker Jazzmin Babers pitched in 10 kills. Sophomore Kaitlyn Blake, who is being counted on to fill in for three-year starting middle blocker Shelby Sullivan who completed her eligibility last season, also hit .571 with eight kills and posted a match-high five blocks.
Senior Emily Hardesty drew the start at the other outside hitter position and finished with a team-high 10 digs. Junior Ashlie Reasor started the first two sets at the opposite hitter position, with freshman Hollann Hans starting the third set in what marked her official Texas A&M debut. Hans, Texas A&M's only freshman to see playing time in the match, was impressive, posting four kills in six attempts without an error and also tallying a solo block.
Reigning SEC Player of the Year Stephanie Aiple had 33 assists while directing the Aggies to a .370 to .155 hitting percentage advantage. The junior needs only 14 more assists to give her 2,309 career assists and move her into the top 10 in the Texas A&M career records.
Junior Amy Nettles was the designated libero in all three sets and finished with seven digs. Seniors Victoria Arenas and Katelyn Labhart each appeared in a set as a defensive specialist, as did sophomore Amy Houser to round out the 11 A&M players who made appearances on opening day.
The Aggies, playing their first regular-season, non-home match in the Lone Star State since their 2011 swan song in the Big 12 Conference, got off to a fast start and led the entire first set while outhitting the Wolf Pack, .565 to .087 in the frame. Texas A&M held an 8-5 lead before using an 8-1 run to begin separating itself from the Wolf Pack. Nevada never got closer than six points, the last time coming at 19-13 before the Aggies used 6-1 run, including a block by Blake and Reasor that closed out the set.
Nevada used a 6-0 run early in the second set to build its first lead of the match, 8-6. The lead was short lived, as Babers and McGee had back-to-back kills and Nevada hit long to put Texas A&M ahead, 9-8.
McGee later had two kills during a 4-0 A&M run that gave the Aggies their largest lead at 22-17. Nevada, however, countered with a 5-0 spurt to tie the score, 22-22. A&M scored the next two points and was serving for the set at 24-22, but Nevada's Shayla Hoeft kept the Wolf Pack alive with a kill, putting Nevada within 24-23. McGee then answered with her eighth kill of the frame to end the set and give the Aggies a 2-0 lead.
The Wolf Pack made things interesting in the final set, taking the lead at 3-2 and not allowing the Aggies to take another lead until a kill by Hans put A&M ahead, 23-22. Nevada had an attack error to put the Aggies serving for the win, but the Wolf Pack would fight off four match points and eventually took a 28-27 lead following back-to-back kills. McGee tied the score for the 13th time in the set with a kill, and Blake followed with a kill to once again put the Aggies serving for the match, 29-27. Nevada was whistled for four hits on the final play to close out the contest.
Madison Morell led Nevada with 14 kills.
The Aggies conclude the North Texas Challenge with a pair of matches on Saturday. In a top-20 showdown, No. 16 Texas A&M faces No. 15 Ohio State at 1 p.m. at the Mean Green Volleyball Center. The Aggies return to the court at 6:30 p.m. to take on host North Texas.