After finishing the regular season with a narrow loss in Gainesville, the Aggies received an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament, being awarded the No. 13 seed in the field of 64 and a host for the first two rounds of the tournament.
Texas A&M will begin the tournament with a first round matchup against St. John’s (22-11, 12-6 Big East) on Thursday.
“I'm excited to be playing St John's,” A&M coach Laura “Bird” Kuhn said. “They're a great team and they're the hot team right now. It was cool to see the coaches all together today.”
In their last match against Florida, the Aggies kept themselves within one point late in the fifth set before a kill by Florida’s Thayer Hall sealed the Aggies’ defeat.
Being able to carry momentum from their loss against Florida will be the Aggies’ key to success in the tournament, said freshman outside hitter Lauren Davis.
“The whole team really plays for each other [which] really drives our momentum through the whole game,” Davis said. “Especially coming out of a game like Florida, the way we could fight back at the end of that set, even though it didn't turn out the way we wanted, that’s still momentum. Just being able to carry that drive and fight into this tournament is kind of right where we want to be at.”
This past week, the Aggies were honored with several postseason honors, including Kuhn winning SEC Coach of the Year. Senior outside hitter Hollann Hans and junior setter Camille Conner both received recognition as members of the All-SEC team. Hans, making her second consecutive All-SEC honor, led the SEC in aces (52) while finishing second in total kills (471) and points (551.5). Conner finished fifth in the SEC in assists (1,062) while being the first player in the SEC to record a triple-double.
Outside hitters Treyaunna Rush and Davis were both recognized on the SEC All-Freshman team. Davis finished the season second in kills with 234, while Rush finished with 158 kills and 73 blocks, third best on the team.
St. John’s, is coming off of an impressive closing to their season, winning seven of their last nine games to clinch a spot in the Big East tournament. In the tournament, the Red Storm swept No. 10 Creighton before upsetting No. 12 Marquette 3-1 to clinch a birth in the NCAA Tournament.
St. John’s coach Joanne Persico said while she is proud of the work the team did over the weekend, it is time to get back to basics.
“It was a fantastic weekend for us,” Persico said. “It was really a culmination of a lot of hard work and a lot of prep, what every athlete in this tournament has gone through. I was so proud of each young ladies, and we had as they say one moment in time this last weekend. Now it's a new season for us, and we have been working on resetting ourselves and getting back to the basics for us.”
One advantage that the Aggies will have going into the first two rounds of the tournament is being able to play in front of the 12th Man. This season, the Aggies are 12-1 at home, with the only loss coming in the fifth set against Florida in October.
Hans said being able to play at Reed Arena gives the Aggies a huge advantage.
“That record speaks a lot, especially having the 12th Man behind us is huge for us,” Hans said. “We went out on campus trying to get as many people at our game tomorrow. It's a huge thing for us to be home.”
With this tournament being the first for the majority of Aggies, a victory would allow the team to make a statement about who they are, said junior middle blocker Makenna Patterson.
“We haven't had this opportunity to be in the tournament in two years,” Patterson said. “I think we're here to show the country what A&M is about. That is such a cool opportunity, and people are going to be excited to hear from us.”
First serve against St. John is slated for 6:30 p.m. at Reed Arena, following the end of the Oklahoma-Rice matchup. If the Aggies advance, they will face the winner of Oklahoma and Rice on Friday at 6:30 p.m.