Down 3-1 in a deciding set tiebreaker, senior Cierra Gaytan-Leach needed help from her audience. Her teammates answered the call with a slow-clap.
That encouragement became a microcosm of Missouri’s weekend, when the Tigers pulled out a dominant win and fell to two Southeastern Conference opponents.
“From what I saw this weekend, I think this team is an NCAA tournament team,” coach Sasha Schmid said. “We are ready to get a win against a ranked program.”
Missouri (5-10, 0-4 SEC) dropped its two conference matchups against No. 7 Vanderbilt (10-4, 3-1 SEC) and No. 22 Kentucky (13-3, 3-1 SEC), but it finished the weekend with a sweep against Bradley (2-7).
The Tigers showed many positive signs in their conference losses. Gaytan-Leach and senior Rachel Stuhlmann won six games in their unfinished doubles match against Vanderbilt. In singles, Gaytan-Leach and sophomore Kelli Hine forced third sets against the Commodores.
Two Missouri doubles teams (Gaytan-Leach/Stuhlmann and Madison Rhyner/Cassidy Spearman) took six games against Kentucky. In singles play, Stuhlmann and Hine defeated the Wildcats in straight sets. Gaytan-Leach won four games in both sets of her singles match, and Rhyner took her opponent to three sets in a very close contest. Spearman led Kentucky 3-1 in the third set of her match, but the deciding set was suspended after the Wildcats clinched the dual victory.
“We were close against Vanderbilt and Kentucky; the results just didn’t show on the scoreboard,” Schmid said. “We really had a good chance against Kentucky, we just didn’t win the matches when we needed them.”
The Tigers recovered in style, earning their third sweep of the spring season against Bradley.
“We did a great job coming in fresh against Bradley after our losses earlier in the weekend,” freshman Tracy Dong said. “We showed good, fresh energy that led to a nice win in front of our home crowd.”
The Tigers dominated the Braves in doubles play, losing just three games in three matches. Gaytan-Leach and Stuhlmann went a perfect 8-for-8 in their match for the first time as a doubles team.
Missouri won all but one of its singles matches in straight sets. Gaytan-Leach was pushed to a third set tiebreaker by Bradley. Bradley jumped to a 3-1 lead in the tiebreak, but Gaytan-Leach mounted a comeback and complete the sweep of the Braves.
“It was important to beat Bradley after such a heart-wrenching loss against Kentucky,” Schmid said. “We know we need to get to .500 to get to the NCAA tournament, which I know we are capable of doing.”
The Tigers will prepare for another triple-header next weekend, featuring Louisiana State, Arkansas and Drake.