Coach Wayne Kreklow joined his team in a celebratory huddle after it defeated Middle Tennessee State University (9-5) on Saturday (25-22, 25-13, 27-25) to win the Mizzou Classic.
“I told them we did a really great job of sticking together and making tough plays down the stretch,” he said.
After leading the third set 23-19, the Blue Raiders tore back the advantage, forming a bump in Missouri’s smooth weekend. The Tigers fought back from a 25-24 deficit with a kill from senior hitter Lisa Henning and a pair of MTSU errors.
“I think it took a lot of mental toughness on our side to dial in and pull out those last couple points,” said Henning, who finished with 10 digs in her third double-double of the season.
Missouri (15-0) finished the match with 11 team blocks on 12 block assists, a testament to its defense in the match.
“Considering ourselves, when you get stuffed a couple of times, it … makes you adjust what you’re doing,” Henning said. “They couldn’t really swing away as much as they used to.”
The defense especially played hero in an evenly-matched first set, as senior setter Molly Kreklow (37 assists, 13 digs, four block assists) and junior blocker Whitney Little (seven kills, season-high six total blocks) teamed up with four block assists in the set.
In the second set, the Tigers challenged the Blue Raiders’ quickness with a fast-paced offense, rallying off upwards of four consecutive points at different times.
Freshman Carly Kan and Henning led the Tigers offensively with 15 kills each. Kan’s shot choice was effective as she dropped small balls and hammered big swings to disconcert MTSU’s defense in vital points of the match.
“That’s what she does really well,” Wayne Kreklow said. “What she has a really good grasp of the options. She doesn’t lose her mind and make a dumb shot. If the line’s there, she’ll take it. If it’s not, she’ll hit cross. If it’s both … she’ll tip, hit a little flat ball in the middle of the court.”
Kreklow and Henning were named co-MVPs of the tournament, and Little and Kan both made the all-tournament team. After this weekend, Missouri is the only undefeated team left in the Southeastern Conference, a conference carrying a 45-2 set record, something that Wayne Kreklow thinks could be a curse.
“We haven’t had to deal with the emotional rollercoaster you get on (in long matches),” he said. “The only thing we can do at this point is recreate it in practice as much as we can, but at the end of the day, there’s no substitute.”
Now done with non-conference play, Missouri prepares for its first match in the SEC when it hosts South Carolina on Friday.
“I think this was a great last kind of a preseason match for us, playing a great Middle Tennessee State team because this is what we’re going to face,” Wayne Kreklow said. “It’s going to go down to the wire.”
The victory was also beneficial to the players’ mindsets, as they now stride into the SEC after stumbling through it last season.
“It puts a target on our back because we’re undefeated, but it gives us the confidence that we need going into conference,” Henning said. “We’re here; this is the real deal.”