Long before seniors Molly Kreklow and Lisa Henning established themselves as one of the winningest classes at University of Missouri, they were rivals.
Before One Mizzou and Something to Prove, mantras symbolic of a senior class (85 wins and counting) that’s five wins shy of winning the most ever in black and gold, it was Henning’s KC Extreme vs. Kreklow’s Northern Lights.
“In high school in club, we played each other all the time,” Kreklow said before practice on Tuesday. “I didn’t ever think we’d be as close as we are now.”
When the teammates came to Missouri, they were roommates, and that’s about it. Although they both had young successes, both players didn’t really bond until the beginning of last season, when they realized their passions for volleyball and competition during a dark time in Missouri volleyball when four players either transferred or quit the team.
“Emotionally or mentally, I don’t think I could’ve gotten through all the drama without her,” Kreklow said. “She was the kind of person I always knew, no matter what, she was going to be the person I could depend on and trust.”
Then senior year came, and, with Henning and Kreklow being the only seniors on the team, they laid the foundation for open communication and a higher standard of expectation.
“We said our senior year is not going to be like this,” Kreklow said. “We wanted to create this team as a family, (and) I think we did things to help that happen.”
Their actions have resulted in a sparkling 23-0 record, a standing atop the Southeastern Conference for a team that’s ranked No. 7 in RPI after pushing to break the top 50 last season.
“We want to do something that we’ve never done before,” Kreklow said. “I think that’s made the team see that we can do more than make the tournament or win this many games.”
The team’s success has been spurred by the seniors’ influence in practice. Since the beginning of practice Aug. 8, coach Wayne Kreklow said he has raised his voice just once because of poor hustle, a testament to the team’s work ethic.
“Once we starting going into season, everybody had these high expectations of what we needed to be doing and how hard we work,” Henning said. “There’s never a day we don’t work as hard as we can.”
Teammates look toward the senior captains for leadership during matches, and because Kreklow and Henning share complementary playing styles, teammates receive varied perspectives.
“It’s kind of like good cop, bad cop,” Henning said. “She’s always the person who’s always encouraging our team and bringing it up. I’m kind of getting in their head and being like … we need to get this done.”
Henning and Kreklow most recently shared game time on a court when they hosted then-No. 2 Florida on Sunday afternoon. The result was a monumental upset, Missouri’s biggest victory yet, bolstered by 15 kills, 46 assists and 20 digs between the seniors. After the match, the set-kill tandem embraced, celebrating how far it’s come.
“I remember hugging her after the game, and I was really emotional,” a misty-eyed Molly Kreklow recalled. “I said, ‘I never saw this happening to us. It just makes all of this so worthwhile.’”