The Missouri volleyball team (18-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) is one win shy of matching its school record for best season start after sweeping Auburn on Friday night (27-25, 25-11, 25-21) to go 3-0 in conference play for the first time since 2005.
The opening set was a nail biter. The Tigers endured 13 ties in score, five of which came within the last 11 points of the set. Nevertheless, Missouri rallied up from a tie at 21 points apiece to prevail 27-25, led by freshman utility Carly Kan. Kan contributed three points to the Tigers’ ending run. Despite hitting only .237, Missouri still managed 15 kills for the set.
The Tigers tied their largest win margin of the season in the second set, routing Auburn 25-11, a score matched only in a victory over Fairfield on Sept. 5. Junior hitter Emily Wilson opened the scoring, and went on to bring her kill count up to six, helping the Tigers to hit .550. Senior hitter Lisa Henning added to the team’s offense with three service aces in four points. After taking the lead 14-10, the Tigers scored nine points straight to go on an 11-1 run to close out the set.
“Overall, I’m really pleased because that’s a really good team,” coach Wayne Kreklow said of the win over Auburn. “They’re just a very dangerous group, and I’m sure they’re frustrated because what tends to happen to them is they play really well, and a couple of things go wrong and they have trouble keeping the place from imploding.”
But it was Kreklow’s team that almost imploded upon itself in the third set. After going up 15-12 on a Wilson kill, Missouri was plagued by a streak of four errors in a row, allowing Auburn to go ahead 15-16, but senior setter Molly Kreklow brought the Tigers back from the edge of despair with a pair of kills. Molly Kreklow ran a well-balanced offense, spreading 32 assists to give Henning and Wilson 10 kills each, as well as seven to junior blocker Whitney Little. The black and gold side clinched the match on a kill from Henning, winning 25-21 with 17 kills to seal their record at 18-0.
Kreklow said, “The balance makes it harder for other teams to keep up with us, so I was really trying to keep that in mind as I was calling plays.”
It seemed Henning and Kreklow switched roles for the night, each tying a career high record in atypical categories. Henning, who ranks 11th in the NCAA for kills per set, had five service aces. She also sponsored eight digs. Meanwhile, Kreklow, who leads the NCAA in aces per set, had eight kills, a feat she also achieved in last year’s matchup against Auburn.
“After I got blocked a couple of times, I kind of reevaluated my play,” Henning said of her uncharacteristic defensive performance. “I realized that they’re ready for me to swing 100 percent, so I focused on kind of taking a little bit off and going that 75 percent and making them make the mistakes.”
Wayne Kreklow couldn’t be happier that his All-American hitter is making strides defensively.
“Lisa’s probably the biggest improvement, and that’s, to me, what’s really separating her game from a year or two ago,” he said. “She makes great defensive plays, critical serving runs, so that’s really satisfying from my standpoint, to see the game expand. We’re not just the one-dimensional player we were two years ago.”
With Henning’s swing anticipated by Auburn, Molly Kreklow stepped in offensively.
“Throughout the game, I kind of noticed that they weren’t really hanging with me,” she said, “because we have so many hitting weapons that, really, it’s hard to stay on them and also watch for me, so that was kind of the point where I started to mix myself in there a little bit. Every chance I got I tried to throw myself in there and kind of make our offense a little more balanced and keep them on their toes a bit more.”
The Tigers look to defend their status as one of only four unbeaten teams in the NCAA as they play Austin Peay at the Hearnes Center on Tuesday.