So, less than 24 hours removed from Missouri's nailbiting five-set win over Iowa State, what exactly have we learned about the Missouri volleyball team? Let me count thy ways:
- This team CAN respond with its back against the wall
So far in conference play, Missouri had failed to pick itself up when down. In the conference opener, Missouri took the first set from Oklahoma, but hit a slump in the second set and never recovered en route to a 3-1 loss. Against Baylor, Missouri couldn't dig itself out of a 2-0 hole. Mizzou's first conference win, a road 3-0 sweep at Texas Tech, never presented any serious adversity outside of a tight second set.
Against Iowa State, Missouri responded in a big way. MU absolutely dominated the first set, and covered up for a few mistakes in the second set for a 2-0 lead. But after the break between the second and third sets, Missouri became a completely different team. In the third and fourth sets, Missouri made a slew of mistakes and looked generally uninspired.
But the Tigers regained the fire in the fifth set, saving the match thanks to outstanding blocking, punishing hitting and the ability to avoid the mistakes that hampered them in the previous two sets.
- Lei Wang is gutsier than I originally thought
Wednesday, the junior setter had a performance that coach Wayne Kreklow called "remarkable." Wang was strong serving and very efficient in her passing, finishing the night with a season-high 55 assists and two aces. Wang's play in the first two sets played a large role in Missouri's early lead.
However, Wang began to cramp in the third and fourth sets, not coincidentally around the same time Missouri began to struggle. After the match, she remarked about how during breaks, she was holding Gatorade in one hand and water in another trying to rehydrate and stop the cramps.
The Missouri offense lacks some of the large, big hitting firepower that other Big 12 teams have, but Wang showed Wednesday that when she's on her game, Missouri has an offensive style all its own.
- Julianna Klein's swagger can carry this team
The hard-hitting redshirt sophomore has the ability to embarrass defenders with her hitting and her serves, and the Iowa State match was no different. Whereas most kills are met with a large amount of screaming, Klein often turns to her teammates with a sly smile after big kills. Klein's "Yeah, that's about right" confidence is at the very least entertaining, if not contagious.
- The young back line continues to impress
Sophomore Caitlyn Vann continues to have an absolutely stellar season at the libero position. At the very minimum, Vann makes two or three digs a match that leave you scratching your head in amazement. But it's not only her play that's getting the back line some attention.
Priscilla "Pip" Armendariz is continuing a strong freshman campaign, contributing eight digs last night. Pip also added two aces, including one on the match's final point. Her freshman teammate on the back line, Annie Lopez, has quietly rounded out the group.
- While the Wilsons struggle, Amanda Hantouli steps up
It's been a season of inconsistency for Missouri so far, and Megan and Catie Wilson (no relation) are no different. Megan, an offhand hitter who is one of Missouri's more physical players, struggled in the match against Iowa State before responding with a huge fifth set. Catie continues to swing back-and-forth as she tries to establish rhythm. It's not odd to see Catie follow up a huge block or kill with an egregious error or missed assignment. Both of the Wilsons have shown that they are indeed vital cogs to this Missouri team, it's just a matter of doing it on every point.
But ever since conference play started, Amanda Hantouli has been arguably Missouri's most consistent weapon. Hantouli had a season-high 11 kills on an obscene .429 hitting night against Iowa State. When Missouri was "on" Wednesday, Iowa State had no answer for the trio of Hantouli, Klein and Weiwen Wang.
- They needed that win
Losing to Iowa State and falling to 1-3 in Big 12 play would have been the first nail in the "missing the NCAA Tournament" coffin. Missouri needs every win it can get at this point, as the schedule does them no favors in the near future. Still looming are matches with nationally-ranked Kansas State, Nebraska and Texas. Those three teams are certainly capable of beating Missouri, but in the third and fourth sets last night, Missouri proved that Missouri is certainly capable of beating itself. That margin of error will only get smaller as conference play rolls on.