Members of the No. 4 Missouri volleyball team (34-0, 18-0 SEC) took their seats at the front of the room. Fans and media milled around snacking on pizza. A broadcast of the Tigers’ win at Florida streamed on a projector in the background. The SEC volleyball championship trophy sat unassumingly on a back table.
But at 8:30 p.m. Dec. 1, every eye in the Clinton Club at Mizzou Arena was trained on the television for the airing of the NCAA Tournament Selection Show.
Cheers erupted from the crowd as Missouri was announced as the No. 4 overall seed in the tournament, the highest tournament seed in program history.
After four straight weeks sitting in the AVCA Top 10, it was a well-deserved end to an undefeated regular season.
Following the announcement, Golden Tigers super-fan Nellie Dodd stood and asked for the room’s attention.
“I don’t know if you folks have seen an undefeated team ever in your lives,” she said. “The whole state of Missouri is proud of these young ladies representing the University of Missouri, and I think they deserve a hand.”
The crowd obliged with a standing ovation.
The Tigers are gearing up to host the first two rounds of the tournament this weekend at Hearnes Center as the No. 1 seed in the lower bracket of the Champaign, Ill., regional.
The Tigers take on unranked IUPUI in the first round Friday. Missouri faces either Central Arkansas or Purdue in the second round Saturday, assuming it advances past the Jaguars.
For team captains Lisa Henning and Molly Kreklow, the team’s lone seniors, it will be the last home game of their collegiate careers.
Kreklow said she plans to continue her volleyball career after graduation, either overseas or playing at a national level.
“I’ll take my chances after season ends and see where that goes,” Kreklow said. “I’m not quite ready to be done, but we’ll see what happens.”
Henning said she will follow in Kreklow’s footsteps.
“We’re actually not leaving, we’re staying here forever,” Henning joked.
Coach Wayne Kreklow cited the pair as an instrumental aspect to the team’s success.
“There are three really key factors in all of this,” he said. “One is the leadership that Molly and Lisa provided. The commitment for the last year that they’ve provided has been the thing that really set it off in the right direction to begin with.”
The coach said underclassmen have taken cues from Henning and Kreklow.
“I think our juniors and sophomore classes have really bought into it, and I think they’ve done an outstanding job of working hard and improving their individual games,” he said. “And then the influx of the freshman and what they’ve provided in terms of energy, enthusiasm, ball control, the little things. Put all those three things together, and it’s been pretty remarkable.”
Molly Kreklow said she and Henning are trying not to view this weekend as a grand finale, but as a chance to continue the remarkable season.
“It’s going to be great to be able to play at Hearnes, and I think that’s going to make a big difference to kind of get our feet wet a little bit the first and second round,” Kreklow said. “I think what it all comes down to, especially for me and Lisa, is that it’s just another game that we have to play. It’s going to be an honor and a blessing to play another game with this team and these coaches, and I think we’re going to go out there with that attitude.”