The Missouri volleyball team had one goal Friday evening: Survive and advance.
That they did.
The undefeated Tigers proved their No. 4 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, sweeping IUPUI (25-22, 25-14, 25-18) at home Friday evening to advance to the second round for the sixth time in program history.
“We survived that one, we advanced,” coach Wayne Kreklow said. “I don’t think we were particularly sharp … but it’s tough, we’ve been off for ten days, and that’s why I think we were a little bit out of rhythm. I feel good about the fact that we got out of there with a win and we lived to fight another day.”
After a rough first set, Missouri ended the match hitting .328 with 53 kills on 116 total attacks from eight different players. IUPUI came close to the Tigers with 115 total attacks, but converted only 36 of them to kills. Missouri also managed to top the Jaguars’ legendary defense, putting up eight team blocks to IUPUI’s seven. Junior blocker Whitney Little added two solo blocks to bring her season total to 41, the best single-season record in program history.
Freshman setter Loxley Keala tallied six assists, a new career-high. In their second career NCAA appearances, seniors Molly Kreklow and Lisa Henning both had double-doubles, Kreklow in assists (41) and digs (14), Henning in kills (15) and digs (10).
“In the tournament it’s kind of a different feeling, but other than that I feel like going out there and doing it like we did every single day in practice really helped,” Henning said. “I went out there and tried to go into it like this is just another match and not put any added pressure on myself. I tried to keep it loose and really get the job done.”
Despite being knocked out so early in his team’s first-ever NCAA tournament appearance, IUPUI coach Steve Payne thinks the experience still bodes well for the program’s future.
“I think down the road, now it’s something where we’ve been there once and we want to do it again,” Payne said. “We’ve got a lot of good returners coming back and it’s going to feed off everybody. For people coming in it’s going to be expected that they do well and win the Summit League, and go ahead and make it to the NCAA tournament again.”
The Tigers got off to a shaky start in front of 4,581 fans. After obtaining a 7-4 lead, Missouri was stumped by a 7-1 IUPUI run that left them down 8-11 at the first timeout. The Tigers finally regained their lead on a Kreklow tip set up by junior libero Sarah Meister to go up 18-17. It looked for a moment as if the Jaguars would turn the tables tied at 22, but Henning sealed the deal for Missouri with a kill to win 25-22.
Missouri was limited to .244 hitting in the first set, and committed an uncharacteristically high six total errors compared to IUPUI’s three. The Jaguars’ three blocks were no match for Missouri’s powerhouse hitting, with Henning contributing a team-high five kills out of the team’s 17.
“We knew that we were playing kind of flustered and very uptight, and that’s not how we play,” Little said. “I think that we really focused and came together and talked about what we needed to do, what we needed to pick up.”
Missouri certainly picked up play in the second set, jumping to a 10-2 lead. IUPUI never overcame them, struggling through six errors and eventually committing an attack error to give the Tigers the set at 25-14. Missouri hit .429 and converted 100 percent of its 18 assists to kills for the set. Henning broke the school record for career attacks with 4,482 at halftime.
In the third set, Kreklow and freshman utility Carly Kan unleashed a flurry of tips to evade the Jaguars’ blocking. The Tigers ramped up their own defense with the help of Little, who had six blocks throughout the match. Though Missouri soon found its early 10-4 lead cut to a 14-14 tie, Henning and Little led the final charge to win 25-18.
The Tigers will take on Purdue in the second round Saturday evening at Hearnes Center.