In her final game at Reed Arena, Hollann Hans finished with 28 kills and 17 digs as Texas A&M defeated the Rice Owls 3-1 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Reed Arena on Friday.
Hans and the No. 25 Aggies advanced to the Sweet 16 round of the tournament for the first time since 2009 with the win.
No. 21 Rice’s season ends after the Owls won their first ever NCAA Tournament match with a 3-0 win over Oklahoma on Thursday, also putting up the second-most wins in program history with a 27-4 season record.
After losing a tiebreaker in the first set, the No. 13 Aggies (23-7) came back to win the next three sets against Rice. The Aggies have now won 12 of their last 14 matchups, including all six home matchups for a home record of 14-1.
“That was probably one of the best team wins in a grind match I’ve been apart of,” A&M coach Laura ‘Bird’ Kuhn said. “This group wills it, and this was a roller coaster. But just like last night, the way they finished it against a very good team, Rice was fighting. I'm just proud of this team and the way they fought, through bad assisted plays. The glimpses of that is what puts teams away, when you see a team just grinding and attacking and battling. They felt it consistently, so I'm just proud of them.”
The Aggies opened the match strong, building an early 15-4 lead over the Owls with kills by Mallory Talbert and Lauren Davis. The Owls responded, however, with a 17-5 run to cut the Aggies’ lead to one. The set ended in a tiebreaker, before blocks by Rice’s Tori Woogk and Grace Morgan clinched the first set for the Owls 28-26.
“Going out there, we had a little bit of jitters,” senior outside hitter Hollan Hans said. “But we reeled it in today. Everyone did their jobs and we were able to pull it back together and create a whole game. It was a really good team win.”
In the second set, the Aggies struggled to separate themselves offensively before the Owls took control of the set, using a 7-1 run to build a 23-18 lead. With their backs against the wall, A&M finished the set strong, winning six of the next seven points to send the second set to a tiebreaker.
The Aggies and Owls went back and forth in the tiebreaker round, tying six more times before an attack error by Rice’s Nicole Lennon gave the Aggies the 32-30 second set victory after 17 tie scores and six lead changes.
“After we won the second set, we were like, ‘It's 0-0’,” Talbot said. “We’re just going to start over, go back to the baseline. I think that was a deep breath moment for everyone.”
One player instrumental to overcoming their second set deficit was Hans. She recorded 12 of her game-high 28 kills in the second set, including five during the tiebreakers.
With the score tied at one set each, A&M carried its momentum into win the next two sets. The third set saw the Aggies and the Owls going back and forth, with the Aggies holding a 20-19 lead late in the set. A&M finished the set on a 5-1 run, as a kill by Makena Patterson gave the Aggies a 25-20 win in set three. With the chance to eliminate Rice, the Aggies dominated the fourth set, leading throughout the set. A 4-0 run to ended the set 25-15, clinching the match for A&M. Freshman Lauren Davis finished with four of her 13 kills in the fourth set.
Kuhn said the team’s ability to lean on each other helped them get better as the match went on.
“Talk about team chemistry, and their competitive chemistry,” Kuhn said. “This team breathes it, they live it because of the way they are connected. That is all of them, they do their things, they talk to each other. They run the huddles before we come in. That is what shows at the end of those matches. In the sets that are tight, they lean on each other.”
Hans said being able to win this tournament matchup in front of the 12th Man meant a lot to her.
“It's the best feeling, honestly,” Hans said. “The way that we came together as a team and this was a complete team win. Just to experience that, especially with this my last time in Reed Arena with these amazing fans, it’s just the best feeling in the world. I'm so thankful, but we got a lot of work to do, so I'm excited to move forward.”
The Aggies will face off against the winner of Wisconsin-UCLA in the Sweet 16, with the location determined by the winner. If Wisconsin wins, they will play in Madison, but a UCLA victory keeps the Aggies in College Station.