The transformation of senior hitter Lisa Henning has been evident in the 11-0 start, Missouri’s best beginning since 2005 (12-0).
“The first year or two she was here, she was really a good swing,” coach Wayne Kreklow said. “But now she serves tough, (and) she’s developed into a pretty good back row player.”
Henning has consciously worked at evolving into a multi-tooled player, one whose overall performance can cruise, even while one portion sputters.
“That’s what I’ve really worked on for myself,” said Kreklow, who leads the Tigers with 156 kills. “If I can hit, hit, and if I can’t, do something else.”
That is what has become of last year’s depleted, monotone team that failed to meet expectations. Now Missouri is versatile, deep in both numbers and talent. The additions of dynamic freshmen, most notably Carly Kan and Loxley Keala, have fused with improving veterans such as junior libero Sarah Meister to create a fluid, unrelenting offense.
“For that to happen, you’ve got to control the first touches, which I think we’re doing pretty well right now,” Kreklow said. “We’re getting (senior setter) Molly (Kreklow) the ball in positions where she can run the offense, and the hitters are transitioning well.”
Meister has been influential in controlling first touches, leading the Tigers in digs (137). The team’s robust back row has allowed the aggressive front line to unload on the 11 schools it has trounced across in its three tournament championships.
“I think, collectively, we’re doing a great job of keeping balls off the ground,” Meister said. “I think we’re doing a lot better on reading situations, talking and taking initiative back there.”
Missouri’s offensive stability benefits greatly from its depth.
Junior Whitney Little (80 kills) and Kan (106 kills) have posted convincing offensive numbers in Missouri’s undefeated run. The Tigers are thrashing opponents .375 to .164 in hitting percentage and have ceded just two of 35 sets so far.
“I think what’s happening, because we’re playing well, is we’re in system a lot,” Wayne Kreklow said. “It’ll be tough to defend us because we do have a lot of options in terms of hitters.”
He knows that his team’s performance is bound to dip, though. This weekend, his team will challenge four talented schools, like Southeastern Missouri and Middle Tennessee State, in the Mizzou Classic. All of them have taken shots at quality teams this season.
But by continuing this season’s plan of maintaining clear communication, Wayne Kreklow hopes his team will be ready to grapple with challenges in the future.
“I think if you’ve considered what’s going to happen if things don’t go well, you can prepare for that,” he said. “We try to look at where are the weaknesses in our team, so we can go out and practice and get better at those.”
So when Missouri stumbles, if it ever does, it will fall back on what it has — a resilient, multi-faceted squad.
“I think that we don’t expect to win, but we’re not losing,” Henning said. “We’re going out there, we know what we can do, and we know how we can perform. And the outcome has been wins. If you go out there and play your best every single time, or play how you know how to play, the results just come.”