Holly Carlton

Right-side hitter Holly Carlton (right) led UF to a five-set victory over Texas A&M on Friday night with a team-high 14 kills. 

It was another long rally. A powerful hit by Texas A&M’s Hollann Hans was dug up by libero Allie Gregory.

Florida tried once again, a setup to outside hitter Thayer Hall.

She swung through the block of two Aggie defenders and out of the reach of another one to hit the ground and give the Gators the win. Joy and relief collided as they avoided catastrophe.

The No. 11 Florida volleyball team (14-3, 5-0 SEC) escaped its first potential SEC loss of the season Friday 25-18, 25-22, 21-25, 22-25, 15-13 at the O’Connell Center. The team will return on Sunday to play Georgia.

“That’s what you want in a game,” outside hitter Holly Carlton said. “The fun ones aren’t when teams just roll over and die. It’s so awesome that the SEC is this competitive and that they are putting really high-level fights like that. You just gotta embrace it.”

It was a game of runs for the entire match.

Florida opened with a 9-1 stretch with two kills each from Carlton and middle blocker Taelor Kellum but was matched by a 7-1 run by Texas A&M (10-6, 3-1 SEC), who used two service aces to shift the momentum. Florida pulled out the set with a win, but the Aggies wouldn’t go away.

Florida led most of the second set, with solid kills from Hall and sophomore outside hitter Paige Hammons, but A&M tied it late on the back of a nine-kill set by Hans. The Gators, however, used a critical 3-0 run at the end to win another close set.

But Hans began to take over the third and fourth sets.

UF threw two or three defenders to cover Hans every time the ball went to her, but it didn’t matter. The junior killed 15 balls and dug six more in the next two sets, leading her team to wins in both and tying the match.

“What a fantastic player,” Hammons said. “She really got us tonight.”

Hans, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter, finished the match with 77 swings, 32 kills and 11 digs, completing her third-straight double-double performance. But it was not enough.

The Gators trailed for only the first three rallies in the fifth and final set before going on a 4-0 run to take the lead and eventually win it. Important kills from Hall, Carlton and right-side hitter Haley Warner helped them come back and put the match away.

While it struggled to contain Hans, Florida’s defense held its own against other key players on the Texas A&M offense.

Sophomore setter Camille Conner, who swung for double-digit kills in her last two matches and earned a triple-double against LSU on Sept. 30, was held to just five kills on 17 swings.

“Our defense did a really nice job on (Connor),” coach Mary Wise said with a smile. “So at least we stopped somebody.”

Texas A&M was also held to just a .236 hitting percentage on the match as a team. But Wise noted that it was the aggressive serves and consistent passing that kept the Aggies in the match.

Wise also said that Carlton’s offense and Gregory’s defense were what bailed Florida out of the upset. Carlton finished with 14 kills and seven blocks while Gregory dug 20 balls and secured three service aces.

“Those two were so good in so many ways,” Wise said. “We needed that.”

 

Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter at @dyrudolph and contact him at [email protected].

 

Dylan is a third-year journalism major. He is currently the sports reporter for the University of Florida volleyball team.