No. 15 Missouri saw its season come to a close in the Sweet 16, losing to No. 2 Minnesota 3-1 in Minneapolis on Friday night. The Tigers finished the season with a 27-6 record and a Southeastern Conference title.
The first set was dominated by the Gophers, despite the Tigers coming out of the first few points looking strong and confident with a 2-0 point lead. Minnesota jumped back into action, gaining an early 8-4 lead to take control of the game. Mizzou started to scramble, prompting coach Wayne Kreklow to take a timeout. The Tigers was unable to recover, and the Gophers took the first set 25-15.
In the second set, Mizzou rallied to take a 13-10 lead behind strong serving from redshirt junior Kira Larson. Minnesota regained its strength after a timeout and took the lead back 17-16. The lead did not last long, as the Tigers exploded on offense with back-to-back kills from senior Carly Kan and redshirt junior Melanie Crow to make the score 19-17. Minnesota continued to fight back, tying the set at 19, but the fight from the Tigers was stronger. Mizzou took set two 25-21.
After the second-set loss, Minnesota brought back the toughness and intensity opposing teams have come to expect from Big 10 schools.
The Golden Gophers opened the third set strong and ran with an early 8-3 lead on kills with their first six swings in the set. The Tigers got the score as close as 14-10, but the Gophers took the third set 25-19.
In the fourth set, Minnesota continued to show intensity and toughness against the Tigers. The Gophers closed out their Sweet 16 win and a spot in the regional finals with a 25-14 set victory.
Tigers’ top performers were Crow, who recorded 12 kills, seven digs and two blocks, and setter Courtney Eckenrode, who finished her junior year earning her seventh double-double this season with 11 digs and 36 assists.
Senior Emily Thater played well in her final game for the Tigers with seven kills, two blocks and two aces. Senior Alexa Ethridge also shined in her last match with 19 digs, making her season total 461, the ninth-most ever in a single season for Missouri.
Kan also performed well in her final match in a Missouri jersey. Kan tallied 20 kills, making her career total 1,677, the second-most in program history. Kan’s 20 kills were her second-most this season, after her 25 earned in a win over Florida on Nov. 20. Kan also posted her 14th double-double of the season, her fourth in an NCAA tournament. This record ties for the second-most in a career by a Tiger.
Even though the Tigers were knocked out of the tournament, 2016 was a strong year for the program overall.
The Tigers’ 27 wins on the season are the fifth-most in school history. These wins tie for the second-best win total since coaches Wayne and Susan Kreklow took over the program in 2000.
The seniors leave the program as the winningest four-year class, with 105 wins. Kan, Thater and right side hitter/middle blocker Julia Towler earned two Southeastern Conference championships and appeared in the NCAA tournament twice. Ethridge was a transfer from Nebraska and finished her junior and senior season with the Tigers. At Mizzou, she earned an SEC championship ring and an appearance in the NCAA tournament as the libero.
Mizzou will lose several core seniors in 2017, but their wealth of young talent and proven juniors will allow the team to continue to compete at a high level next season. For now, the Tigers can look back on all of their accomplishments from a stellar season with pride.
Edited by Eli Lederman | firstname.lastname@example.org