In her final game as an Aggie, senior outside hitter Hollann Hans finished with a game-high nine attack errors, as the Texas A&M volleyball team fell in three sets to the Wisconsin Badgers in the Regional Semifinal of the NCAA Volleyball Tournament in Madison, Wisconsin.
Going into this matchup, the No. 13 Aggies completed the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament with home wins over St. Johns and No. 21 Rice to advance to the Round of 16 matchups for the first time since 2009.
With the victory, No. 4 Wisconsin moves on to the regional final, where they will face the winner of No. 5 Nebraska and No. 12 Hawaii. With major contributions from juniors Dana Rettke, Molly Haggerty and Grace Lohberg, the Badgers have advanced to consecutive regional finals for the first time since 2014.
"I'm proud of this group, heck of a season,” A&M coach Laura “Bird” Kuhn told 12thman.com. “They fought. This was the environment we expected for sure, and Wisconsin is a great team. They were consistent tonight and we executed, but it just wasn't consistent enough all the time. The battle in the third set and the way they started playing like themselves and really settling in, that's who we really are and that's who this team has been this season and evolved and developed into and I'm proud of them.”
The Aggies opened the match well, matching with the Badgers early in the first set to tied at 7. Midway through the set, Wisconsin began to separate themselves, as they would use a 6-2 run to build a 13-9 lead, before the Aggies used a 5-1 run to cut the deficit to one. The Badgers finished the set on a 7-3 run, with a kill by Danielle Hart giving Wisconsin the 25-20 first set victory.
For the Aggies, the offense continued to rely on Hans for offensive production, especially early. In her final game as an Aggie, the senior finished with 20 kills and five digs, including eight kills in the first set alone.
After the match, Hans reflected on what this season has meant for her.
“I couldn't have asked for a better senior year, and I'm just so thankful for everyone,” Hans told 12thman.com. “Texas A&M volleyball has a really bright future and I'm excited to watch.”
Down one set, the Aggies started off the second set poorly, giving up seven of the first eight points for an early 9-2 Wisconsin lead. The Aggies responded quickly, as two service aces by Hans and huge kills from Patterson and Davis helped fuel a 9-3 run that cut the Wisconsin lead to 12-11. The Aggies and Badgers went back and forth throughout the set, before a 7-1 run to finish the set gave Wisconsin the 25-17 set two victory.
One key area where the Badgers had an advantage was in the blocking department. One of the best blocking teams in the nation, Wisconsin finishing with nine team blocks compared to A&M’s two. Wisconsin’s Rettke finished with five herself, while Aggie junior Makenna Patterson only totaled two.
The Badgers began the third set dominant, with kills by Haggerty and Rettke helping Wisconsin build another early 7-1 lead over the Aggies. With their backs against the wall, the Aggies began to build momentum of their own, using kills by Hans, Patterson and Davis to take an 18-17 lead over Wisconsin. Having re-taken the serve down 24-23, a kill by Rettke spoiled the Aggies chance at a comeback, as Wisconsin clinched the third set 25-23, winning the match in three sets. This match marked only the second time that the Aggies have been swept this season, the first coming against No. 3 Texas back in September.
With the loss, the Aggies end their first 23-win season in four years and their first time advancing to the regional semifinals in over a decade. This season, the Aggies improved their win total by six games, and receiving many postseason accolades, including SEC Coach of the Year for Kuhn and All-Sec honors for Hans and setter Camille Conner.
Coach Kuhn reflected on the progress that the Aggies have made in her second season as Head Coach.
“I think the seniors and this team set the tone,” Kuhn told 12thman.com. “The foundation was laid last year, but they set the tone for what the buy-in was for this group. The connection and character and personality they bring is special.
“Talk about team chemistry, and their competitive chemistry. 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.”
The 2019 Aggies will graduate three seniors: setter and defensive specialist Haley Slocum, starting libero Camilla Gomez and Hans, with junior Makena Patterson also graduating this semester.
After the match, Conner praised the work the seniors have done this season for laying a foundation for Aggie Volleyball.
“The seniors this year have set the foundation for this program and just their buy-in and their consistency coming into the gym every day, asking more from the underclassmen,” Conner told 12thman.com. “It was something so cool to see and I'm super excited for next year. I'm really just trying to follow what they did this year and continue on, because Texas A&M Volleyball is going to be very good. So I'm super excited and thankful for the seniors.”