After the curtains closed on Missouri’s highly-anticipated Southeastern Conference debut last season leaving the Tigers with a 10-9 record, hitter Lisa Henning left the court with a sour taste.
“I think that after that season, wishing we could’ve done more, we started doing more for our next season,” Henning said. “Not only thinking about how it starts in August, (but) thinking about how it started in December.”
Henning and setter Molly Kreklow, the only seniors on the 13-woman squad, have worked tirelessly to improve the team.
“I think what makes them really good is that they are two of the hardest workers that we have, day in and day out,” coach Wayne Kreklow said. “I can’t overstate the importance of having seniors that are your hardest working players every day.”
The duo is not alone in its second trial of staying afloat in the SEC East’s volleyball rapids. Six freshmen join them this season, creating a dynamic that will be tested come the season opener when Missouri hosts the Tiger Invitational on Friday and Saturday.
“When you have freshmen making statements like, ‘We’ll do everything that we can to help Molly and Lisa have a good year,’ you know you have a good mix,” coach Kreklow said.
Historically, the Tigers have fared well in their season-opening tournament. Prior to last year’s second-place finish, Missouri won its tournament four consecutive years.
“You never quite know what happens at the beginning because you’re playing people you haven’t seen yet, (and) they haven’t played matches,” coach Kreklow said.
Missouri does not often play against the four schools it faces this weekend, all of which had winning percentages at or above .500 last year. Nevertheless, coach Kreklow is focused solely on his own team’s performance.
“A big focus for us this year, and it’s hard, (is) to not get so caught up in the W’s and the L’s that you lose sight of what we’re trying to do here,” he said. “And (what we’re trying to do) is get better as players every day — be the best we can be, on the court and off the court.”
Missouri’s improvement was evident in Thursday’s Black & Gold Scrimmage, where its new depth shone. In preparation for the Tiger Invitational, coach Kreklow looks to tinker with his team’s play.
“We need to clean up ball control,” he said. “It’s good to have a lot of options, but it also makes it more complicated as a setter because sometimes you’ve got too many toys to play with.”
Above all, the Tigers are determined to make up for last season and begin powerfully, something which coach Kreklow said has been a focus from the very first spring practice.
“They’re ready to go,” blocker Whitney Little said. “I think they do want to go out and get rid of that sour taste.”