COLLEGE STATION, Texas - The No. 25 Texas A&M Aggies advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009 winning a daunting four-set match against the No. 21 Rice Owls, 26-28, 32-30, 25-20, 25-15, Friday evening at Reed Arena.
In her final match at Reed Arena, Hollann Hans equaled her career high with 34 points. With 28 points and 17 digs, she recorded her 14th double-double of the season and the 37th of her career. It marked her 26th consecutive game with 10-plus kills and the 90th double-digit performance of her career. She reached 20 kills for the 11th time in 2019 and the 29th time with the Aggies. She added four services aces and four blocks.
Camille Conner checked in with 56 assists, marking her fifth 50-plus performance of the year. She added nine digs and three blocks.
Other key performances includes, Mallory Talbert with 10 kills, a .381 attacking clip and six assists. Lauren Davis chipped in with 13 kills and two blocks.
Rice was paced by Nicole Lennon with 15 kills, 12 digs and five blocks. Grace Morgan and Anota Adekunle logged 12 and 11 kills, respectively.
After letting an 11-point lead slip away in the first set, the Maroon & White brought grit to the pivotal second stanza. The nail-biting set included 17 ties and was highlighted by Hans' 12 kills.
Texas A&M won sets three and four trailing Rice.
Rice's best campaign in program history ends with a 27-4 mark and the Owls' first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament's second round.
Texas A&M improved to 23-7 on the year. Next weekend, the Aggies play the winner of Saturday evening's match between tournament No. 4 seed Wisconsin and UCLA.
Hans landed a kill to start the match and spark a 5-0 Aggie run. Rice scored two points coming out of their first timeout, but A&M responded with another 5-0 spurt behind two more kills by Hans to extend the advantage to 10-2 before the Owls' second time out. The Aggies extended the lead to 11 points at 15-4, before Rice showed signs of life with four unanswered points, cutting the gap to 15-8. A pair of Anota Adekunle blocks highlighted a 4-0 surge by the Owls as they pulled to within four points at 17-13. Rice's steady comeback continued, closing the gap to 21-20 on a service ace by Nicole Lennon. The Aggies had three set points and the Owls had one, before Rice was finally able to close out the stanza with a block from Tori Woogk and Grace Morgan. Six blocks and three service aces buoyed Rice in the set.
See-saw action led to 10 ties, including 18-18, before a pair of Adekunle kills and two A&M attack errors spotted Rice a 22-18 advantage. The Aggies clawed back into the match and fought off one Rice set point during a 7-1 run, keyed by three Lauren Davis kills as A&M took a 25-24 lead. Rice had set point at 26-25, before Hans went beast mode with five kills and the Maroon & White finally broke through on their fifth set point courtesy of an attack error by the Owls' Lennon. Hans spearheaded the Aggie assault with 12 kills and Davis chipped in with six. The daunting set included 17 ties and six lead changes.
Five kills, including a pair by Mallory Talbert, propelled the Aggies to a 7-3 edge. Two more kills by Hans continued the A&M momentum as the gap bulged to 12-5. Rice capitalized off three Aggie attack errors during a 7-0 run to knot the contest at 12-12. Two additional Talbert kills sent the Maroon & White to a 7-2 spurt and 19-14 advantage. The Owls mounted one last charge in the set with Ellie Bichelmeyer pounding out four kills in a 5-1 surge to close the gap to 20-19. The Aggies closed out the stanza with five of the last six points, including the set-ending kill by Makena Patterson. Talbert recorded four kills in five attempts and Camila Gomez scooped up 10 digs.
The Aggies methodically crafted a 10-5 lead with a kill by Patterson compelling Rice to take its first timeout. The Maroon & White's strong play resulted in a 5-1 surge and the Owls' second timeout with A&M leading 16-8. The break did not stem the Aggie tide as they stretched the gap to 20-10 after a service error by Lennon. The Owls took one last gasp of air, scoring five of the next six points to shave the lead to 21-15. A&M scored the last four points of the match with Davis providing the end game with her lucky 13th kill.
Head Coach Laura "Bird" Kuhn
Opening Statement... "That was probably one of the best team wins and grind matches I've had with this group and it was a roller coaster. They just had to study it out and earn points, but again, just like last night, the way they finished. They finished a very good team. Rice is a great team. They were fighting and I'm just proud of this team and the way they fought. The glimpses of that, that's what puts teams away."
On deleting that first set... "It's crucial to delete that first set because volleyball is a game of momentum. You have to acknowledge it and we have to let it go. I told them, 'Welcome to the NCAA Tournament.' This is how it's going to be. It's going to be a battle and we knew would be a battle, but it was the fight at the end of set two. They just talked about that finish and it's what gave them their composure, but they earned the composure back by coming back. We talked about playing point for point, just don't look at the scoreboard. We have to earn these points so it's just controlling the momentum and there were huge shifts in that [momentum] the first two sets."
Senior Outside Hitter Hollann Hans
On using the momentum from the first set... "It was huge for us. We knew that things were going wrong in the first set, but we were in control. We brought that together and we just came together as a team and focused on the controllables. We brought it together and carried it through the rest of the match."
On advancing to the Sweet 16 for the first time in a decade... "It's the best feeling honestly. The way that we came together as a team. This was a complete team win, so just to experience that and especially it being the last time out in Read Arena with these amazing fans. It's just the best feeling in the world and I'm so thankful, but we got a lot of work to do so I'm excited to move forward."
Sophomore Middle Blocker Mallory Talbert
On minimizing the errors after the first set... "I think we just realized that we didn't have to do anything more than what we've been doing all season. It's high pressure and it's really exciting, but we just get back to our baseline and play our game more successful."
On staying positive during the long sets... "We talked about it before the game. In the big moments, leaning on your teammates and just knowing that you can do it and if you're not feeling the best, think about someone else. We're all here for each other and this can be our last time playing in Reed, so it's almost like another senior night, so we just knew how important this was."