A simple sign wields great power.
For Missouri volleyball, this sign lies in the black-coated tunnel from which players emerge into the spotlight, where years of quiet practice and patience are tested beneath the shouts and stares of home fans.
The sign is white, the size of a poster board, but it is easy to overlook without a focused effort. The Tigers do not need that extra glance, though. The sign whispers to them. It soothes calamities and provokes persistence.
The sign bears the logo of Missouri’s league, three rounded letters representing the Southeastern Conference. Golden words with a black rim are emblazoned on the center of the logo, reading “Something To Prove.”
Perhaps what gives the sign its strength are those holy words. They reappear on social media, on the players’ accounts and the team’s official account. They are there at the end of every related tweet, abbreviated with the hashtag #STP. They are at the additional meetings and at every practice and in the core of Columbia’s volleyball sphere, one that was deflated by last season’s disappointing skitter in the SEC.
Coach Wayne Kreklow knows of the sacred words.
“Well, that’s something that the players came up with,” he said with hesitation. “One of the things of that is that’s kind of their thing, and so that’s kind of a team thing, so… you just have to wait (to find out).”
“Me and Molly (Kreklow) came up with it,” senior hitter Lisa Henning said, standing in the tunnel after a victory in Saturday’s Tiger Invitational. “We kind of always knew we really had something to work for, so we thought this year to have a slogan.”
As the only seniors on the team, Henning and Kreklow devised a way to make goals seem more reachable. When two-a-day practices began in August, they knew what it was.
“It’s that key phrase that bevels everyone down,” Henning said. “It sparks everybody’s game, and you kind of just go with it.”
The reason behind the slogan is simple: There are short-term goals and long-term goals. In order to conquer the long term, you have to beat the short term.
Each practice, players write down their short-term goals for the day. They differ for each person, but the goals are usually about small skills: improving footwork, staying positive, staying consistent.
“It’s little things that you work on every day that make it easier for you to get better,” Henning said.
By getting better, the team can accomplish its long-term goals, mainly winning the SEC and working its way into the NCAA Tournament. The end goals can also help the players with their day-to-day objectives, Molly Kreklow said.
“We work really hard, but we have our end goal all the time,” she said. “That helps keep us motivated and really helps us work extra hard in practice, even though it’s not easy.”
Even when they are not in class, the players receive grades.
Each week, the team meets at a different location ranging from a player’s house to Lazer Lanes.
Locations are chosen to keep a fun, relaxed atmosphere, but they also bear importance.
“You put in all this time, all this effort, all these summer workouts, and it’s just been really important for us to talk about why we are doing this,” Molly Kreklow said. “We grade ourselves on how we’ve been doing.”
Having meetings has been beneficial to this year’s team, specifically, because of its new dynamic. Last year, Missouri crumbled at the hands of a thin roster, but this year, several players might not see much time on the court because of its immense depth.
“I think that our meetings really help everybody understand that everyone can communicate, everyone has a say in what we do, and everybody is a part of the team, no matter if you’re on the bench or on the court,” Henning said.
At their meetings, players review their standards as a team. They assess themselves in about 10 categories inside and outside of volleyball. After reviewing the past, they seek to improve for the future. They can do so with their coaching staff and psychologist — who, although not present for weekly meetings, is available for individual meetings.
“They’re always included in what we’re doing,” Molly Kreklow said.
The coaching staff is also there at practices and matches, where players greet the sign with a slap, reminding them of their season’s purpose, that they have something to prove.
“I think it’s really going to help the team,” Molly Kreklow said.