In a crushing blow, the No. 4 Missouri volleyball team (35-1, 18-0 SEC) suffered its first loss of the season in the second round of the NCAA tournament Saturday evening.
The team Purdue coach Dave Shondell called “the most efficient team in America” gave up the opening set for only the second time this year in their 1-3 loss to the Boilermakers (18-25, 25-23, 16-25, 25-27). The Tigers’ fourth set defeat was only the tenth set they lost all season.
For setter Molly Kreklow and hitter Lisa Henning, both seniors, it was the last set they would ever play at Hearnes Center.
The inseparable pair entered the media room red-eyed and downtrodden. The usually expressive Kreklow sat silently as Henning took in the brunt of the questions. When the SEC player of the year did speak, it was in short, numb sentences.
“It’s all really kind of not sunk in yet, the whole season and tonight,” Kreklow said. “I think a couple years from now we’ll look back at this and it’s definitely been a special year.”
More so than the numbers and statistical records set, it was the Tigers’ mental stamina that made the season truly remarkable.
“I think we had confidence up until the last point, and that’s what good teams do, Kreklow said. “We needed the confidence to perform and I think it may not have gone our way but up to the last point we thought we were going to win.”
Coach Wayne Kreklow said his team is using that positive thinking to help internalize the loss.
“In sport, some days it’s your day and some days it’s somebody else’s, and I was really proud of the way we competed,” he said. “Some days just aren’t your day, and we’ve had a lot of really good ones over the course of the season.”
Entering halftime, it looked for a moment like Saturday would be one of those days.
Missouri took the lead for the first time late in the second set at 17-16 thanks to a block from junior blocker Whitney Little. Freshman utility Carly Kan led the Tigers to a 25-23 victory with two huge kills within Missouri’s last three points.
The last time the Tigers lost the first set and won the second, an Oct. 25 road match against LSU, they had were victorious 3-1.
But that was not the case here.
After being knotted at 3-3, the Tigers trailed the entire third set, eventually sitting at a deficit of 12-24. Though Missouri managed to stave the Boilermakers off for four set points, it was not enough, and Purdue claimed the set 25-16.
In the fourth and final set, Kan rattled off three huge kills in a row down the left side to bring the Tigers within one point, down 12-13. After some sloppy miscommunication, Missouri clawed its way back to ties at 22, 24 and 25 before falling 25-27.
Despite the false hope and disappointing outcome, Wayne Kreklow said Missouri’s overall mission was complete.
“Our goal every time we go out is to make sure we compete,” he said. “And at the end of the day if we don’t come out with a win, we want to make sure that somebody had to earn it. And Purdue had to earn this one.”