Molly Kreklow has already written this story.
It began last season, after Missouri’s destined team crumbled to pieces and two leaders — Kreklow and Lisa Henning, then-juniors — remained to pick them back up. That’s when they decided what the journey would be, where the finish line would lie for the crisp ending of a pair of celebrated collegiate careers.
The characters in the story developed as Kreklow had liked them to: a cast of loyal, dynamic freshmen; a stable of maturing, poised upperclassmen; another senior, a foil, but an agreeable one; and the coaching staff, the elders, the wise who keep the others stable.
“We really bought in to what they were teaching us and what they wanted to do with this team,” Kreklow said of her coaches. “It couldn’t have been a more perfect mix.”
For the senior setter, the beginning (and now middle) of the story has been ideal. Twenty-five victories and zero losses without seemingly batting an eye. Four consecutive weeks of conference and national awards, statistical standings atop the nation. The beginning was a definitive roar that, yes, they have something to prove and, yes, they are going to prove it.
And while the settings change and the suspense multiplies, the characters have remained static. So goes the cliché: the Tigers have taken it one game at a time. That’s the mindset players have had all season, a mindset carried by emotional team meetings (more like a focus group of inspirational oratory) before every match and nearly every practice.
“Sometimes, when you go on the road from place to place, you kind of lose track of why you’re doing this,” Kreklow said. “(Talking things through) kind of brings you back to where you are.”
The key to this story has been the perspective that’s holding the team together and carrying it forward, through the rollercoaster-like bends of any tale. Take any of Missouri’s impactful victories this season — then-No. 2 Florida at home, a sweep of Texas A&M on the road — and Kreklow is the same after every match.
A glance at the box score, and it’s back to work.
“People always tell me, ‘You guys are doing good,” Kreklow said. “I always respond, ‘Oh, but this next week is going to be tough.’”
And that’s what it has been for the entire team. The No. 7 Tigers, who are competing to host the regional of December’s NCAA tournament, haven’t wavered with the attention that being one of two undefeated teams in the country spurs. Nothing has changed for them, and they’re always looking forward.
“It feels like it’s preseason when we’re still practicing and we haven’t even played any games yet,” Kreklow said. “(Matches are) just a little glimpse of what we do every single day, all week, all fall.”
The team can continue its meek gallop if it beats Ole Miss and No. 19 Kentucky at home this weekend. After that, it’s seven matches — five away, three at home — and then postseason play.
Kreklow has already written this story, we know that. But the ending?
She’s still writing it.