Mizzou returns to form after SLU sweep

Regan Peltier after 2-0 SEC start: “We have more confidence in ourselves for the rest of the season.”

Missouri Tigers volleyball players celebrate after winning their match against the Florida Gators 3-2 on Sept. 30, 2015, at Hearnes Center in Columbia, Mo.

It was time to bounce back and quickly.

After being swept by an unranked St. Louis team Sept. 23, the Missouri volleyball team returned to Hearnes Center knowing, it “can’t have another match like that,” especially given its next opponent, junior Julia Towler said.

With the challenge of the No. 9 team in the nation ahead, the Tigers needed a mentality change, fast. Their turnaround began at practice.

“We’ve been talking a lot lately about how over the course of the season there’s a lot of ups and downs, obviously that was a pretty big down,” junior libero Alexa Ethridge said. “We all came back way more focused, energized and serious. It was a new vibe in the gym.”

Focused on “the details” the team approached each drill, each practice, in a more “serious” manner, Ethridge said. However, the players’ shift in attitude would not be the only significant change from playing the Billikens to the Florida Gators.

With the mid-major players the Tigers were previously matched against, the games were played “differently” given the opponents tendency to be “smaller, faster and quicker,” coach Wayne Kreklow said. Florida is by no means a mid-major team.

“Sometimes those early season matchups with those mid-majors result in a bad outcome, not because we don’t have talented kids, but (because) the matchups aren't there,” Kreklow said. “My biggest concern going into (Florida) is I think we know what we’re doing, but we'll see when we match up against another big, physical team.”

After a week of serious practices, the time had come.

“Florida has always been one of their country's best,” Kreklow said. “Any time you go against them you better bring your ‘A’ game or it's going to be a short night.”

And for the first half of the game it looked like it would be. Following two competitive, back-and-forth games, the Tigers went into halftime down 0-2. When they returned to the court, their chances decreased immediately.

The team fell behind by a few points. Then five. Then eight.

“I was worried because we were at that tipping point where a couple more and the hole would’ve been too big,” Kreklow said.

But the hole was just big enough. The team utilized several serving streaks to chip away at the gap, closing in a little at a time until the teams were finally tied at 17. Then the Tigers took over to win it, 25-21.

The players carried the momentum to win the fourth set 25-19, forcing a fifth and final game. With a high level of aggression, the team went “hard on every ball,” and 15 Mizzou points later, the team that “was not supposed to win this match,” was the one celebrating, Towler said.

“I was blown away by the resiliency and hard work that we continued to show,” Kreklow said in a press release. “We finally came together and fed off each other's emotions the rest of the way. I'm so proud of this team. We never gave up. What a way to start the (Southeastern Conference) season.”

Their success was furthered Sunday night in a 3-1 win over the Tennessee Volunteers. With a 2-0 start in their SEC season, Mizzou moved up to the No. 11 team in the nation.

“We were a little down on our spirits after the SLU game, but to come out and rally against Florida and then beat (Tennessee),” senior middle blocker Regan Peltier said. “We have more confidence in ourselves for the rest of the season.”

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