The No. 7 Missouri women’s volleyball team (25-0, 9-0 SEC) is off to its best start in program history, and looking back at the season’s halfway mark, no one saw it coming.
Not even All-American senior hitter Lisa Henning.
“I think that we came into the season and knew what we wanted to do and knew it was going to be pretty tough to do it, so I think that just going kind of game by game,” Henning said. “We didn’t really think about in the middle of the season what our record would be. We never really talked about our record. We just talked about what we wanted to accomplish and what games we wanted to win, so I think that we didn’t really expect it.”
After winning only 19 games in the entire season last year, the Tigers came out this year with the motto “something to prove,” ready to earn their spot in the Southeastern Conference. They managed to pull some huge upsets, most notably being an Oct. 20 victory over then-No. 2 Florida.
“I think that since last year we kind of took some teams and didn’t respect them as much as we should have, and we lost to them,” Henning said. “I think this year we’re really trying to implement that every team is important, every win is important. It doesn’t matter who it is out there on the court, we’re going to play our best and do our best to win each game.”
Missouri has defied its underdog status and climbed in the rankings since Sept. 30, reaching No. 7 in the AVCA coaches poll. It is the highest the team has been ranked since also being seventh in 2005.
“It’s nice to be appreciated and nice to be out there and stuff, but when we play Florida, rankings don’t matter,” Henning said. “It obviously doesn’t matter who you’re playing or what your ranking is. It matters what you’re doing that night, and that day. We’re just trying to work hard and continue to win.”
And whatever they are doing is working. Missouri leads the NCAA in assists, hitting percentage, points per set and season record, and is second in kills per set. Henning herself ranks inside the top 25 in both kills and points. With 1,638 career kills thus far, she is just 20 kills shy of tying a school record.
The team co-captain, however, is nonchalantly humble.
“I don’t really care; that has never been one of my goals, to set a school record or anything like that,” Henning said. “I actually didn’t even know until I saw it on Twitter, and I was like ‘Oh, okay, that’s awesome.’ But I think that it’s more important to focus on our goals for our team and whatever happens with me happens.”
Henning is eager to look ahead to the nine remaining conference matches of her final season as a Tiger. The AVCA announced Tuesday that Missouri is one of 33 teams being considered to host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament in December. The last time the Tigers were in the tournament was in 2005. They advanced to the round of eight.
While Henning has the tournament in mind as a clear goal for the team, her vision for her own future post-volleyball season is not quite as well defined.
“I want to try and go play overseas a little bit, but I’m not sure really what I want to do,” she said.
A sports management major, Henning wants to pursue a career in game operations for football or baseball, either in professional or collegiate sports.
“I don’t even know what I’m doing next semester,” she said. “I’m just trying to focus on the season.”
In a few months, the Missouri volleyball team hopes to be gearing up for its third season in the SEC after a successful 2013 NCAA Tournament. And as for Henning?
We’ll have to wait and see.