Event staff at Hearnes Center had good reason to play pop hits by Taylor Swift after Missouri volleyball’s four-set win over Georgia on Friday.
The Tigers were “feeling 22.”
The No. 18 Tigers continued their upward trend with a win over Georgia (25-20, 17-25, 25-19, 25-19) to bring their nation-best record to 22-0.
Missouri’s first offensive attack of the match came in the form of a kill from senior hitter Lisa Henning. The Tigers jumped to a 6-3 lead, but Georgia whittled it down to tie the game at 7-7.
After battling back and forth, freshman utility Carly Kan laid down two decisive kills, swinging solo on a free ball to give Missouri a 10-8 lead. A huge run that ended with two kills in a row from junior blocker Whitney Little put the Tigers up 18-14, and the home side went on to take the set 25-20.
The Tigers hit .314 in the opening set, compared to the Bulldogs’ .229. Little hit .750 on three kills. Henning and junior hitter Emily Wilson led Missouri’s offense with five kills each. Henning also had two service aces.
The second set was a wake-up call for the Tigers, who started off down 4-8. A pair of kills from Henning and freshman blocker Emily Thater ended a four point Georgia run, but the Bulldogs were quick on the rebuttal, taking advantage of Missouri errors to force a set point at 24-16.
Wilson kept the Tigers alive briefly, sending a swing crosscourt to the corner for her eighth kill of the night, but Georgia didn’t miss its next opportunity and won 25-17.
“I felt like they were serving really aggressively at us, and we were just having trouble getting the ball to Molly (Kreklow) in the position where we could run,” coach Wayne Kreklow said. “There wasn’t any offense. It was all we could do to get somebody a swing, and that just makes it easy for a team like that to get set, defend and then transition back at you. When that happens, you’re in trouble.”
Despite matching Georgia with 14 kills and three attack errors in the second set, Missouri was outplayed on defense. The Bulldogs had 4.5 team blocks in the first two sets, while the Tigers only had two.
Henning said the team tried to set its sights ahead after a disastrous second set.
“We didn’t really want to focus on all the negatives and put that kind of pressure on ourselves and say that we have to go back out there and play perfect,” Henning said. “So we relaxed in the locker room, kind of reevaluated what happened in the second game, and realized that we just need to play our game, and it doesn’t have to be perfect, but we just can’t make as many mistakes as we did in that second game.”
The Tigers certainly managed to tighten up on errors. Missouri started the third set by showcasing its diverse offense. The Tigers’ first six kills came from five different players, taking an early 8-4 lead. A combined offensive effort from Henning, Little and Kan took the black and gold to set point, and a tip from senior setter Molly Kreklow sealed the victory at 25-19.
The Tigers hit a phenomenal .514, with 19 kills on 37 attacks with no attack errors. Henning led both teams with a total 15 kills, while Thater left her mark with seven kills and a hitting percentage of .636, the highest of any Missouri player. Henning was also unstoppable on the back line, leading the team in digs.
“You like to see players develop all around, and that was one of Lisa’s weak areas,” Wayne Kreklow said of Henning’s digs. “That was always kind of the knock on her, and would always at the end, when it came time to make final decisions be like, well she’s a great swing, but passing and defense isn’t quite where it was supposed to be, so for her to improve in that area is really great.”
A Georgia team riddled with errors gave Missouri no trouble as it clinched the match 25-19 in the fourth set. Henning capitalized on four Bulldog errors to tally 20 kills for the night. She also led the team in digs, with 12 for the match.
Kan, the reigning conference freshman of the week, put down a scorching kill to win match point, her 13th of the match. The Tigers have delivered more than 30 kills in every match this season. Molly Kreklow spread 52 of the team’s 61 assists, a new season high.
“I really like where we’re at,” she said. “I like people to come in here and kind of underestimate us a little bit. They don’t really know what we have, and I really like that. I like being the underdog in some of these better teams, and I think that’s a good place for us.”
To get to the next level, the Tigers have to get through No. 2 Florida on Sunday, but Wayne Kreklow isn’t preoccupied.
“We talked nothing about Florida,” he said. “We can direct the conversation away from that. I’m sure the players, in the back of their minds, they know what the schedule is, but honestly we did nothing to prepare for Florida. At this point, we know what they do. They don’t do anything out of the ordinary, they just have elite-level athletes doing it.”