Volleyball battles Big 12 trend

Performance, home and away, boils down to consistency and attendance.

The MU volleyball team has seen success at 'Home Sweet Hearnes' this season, where it is 4-2, but has struggled in Big 12 road matches, posting a 1-6 record. Players and coaches attribute high attendance and fan support as a major source of the disparity in records.

To promote the 2008 season, the Missouri volleyball program printed posters, pocket schedules and media guides bearing the phrase, "Home Sweet Hearnes."

Although Missouri has protected its home court well, the team's performance in Big 12 road matches has quickly become a matter of concern.

"If you look around the league, it's happening to a lot of people," coach Wayne Kreklow said. "A lot of people do well at home, and they struggle on the road. You have to do the best you can to protect your home floor."

After MU's 3-1 win over Texas Tech at home on Saturday, the team improved its home conference record to 4-2. But the win came after a two-match road stretch where the Tigers dropped matches to Iowa State and Kansas, teams they beat at home earlier in the season.

"(Against Tech), there were several times when I was thinking about this on the side - we're doing the same thing the other night at KU, but there was no home crowd to get us over the hump when we start getting a point or two to get our adrenaline pumping," Kreklow said.

With the losses to Iowa State and Kansas, MU now holds a 1-6 record in Big 12 road games.

Their struggles highlight a conference-wide trend of home dominance. In a 30-match span of Big 12 matches from Oct. 12 to Nov. 1, home teams went 22-8.

Statistically speaking, MU's splits at home and away further illustrate the vast difference in the team's road performance.

Across the board, the offense has been above average at home and subpar on the road. MU averages more kills, more assists and less errors on less total swings in Big 12 matches played at the Hearnes Center than outside of it.

The team's hitting percentage further supports the trend of inconsistent play on the road. In Big 12 play, MU has hit .238 at home, which contrasts with its .166 hitting percentage on the road.

The statistical disparities include MU's serving, which also shows a distinct imbalance. In home matches, Missouri averages 1.11 service errors for every service ace. On the road, that number spikes to 1.96.

But despite the figures that can be used to describe the difference in MU's performance at home and on the road, it all comes back around to one number: attendance.

"I don't think the home crowds have an effect on the visiting teams as much as they have an effect on the home team, helping them through the rough spots," Kreklow said. "What I see on the road - and we're like everyone else - when we go on the road and we start to struggle a bit in a rotation, you don't have the crowd that's behind you, that when you have that one play to get out of it, everybody's back there and you feel the energy level from the crowd help."

MU is outdrawing opponents in terms of attendance with an average of 1,747 to 988. In fact, the Lincoln Journal Star, which covers the nation's second-highest drawing team, Nebraska, recently lauded the Hearnes Center's atmosphere, particularly the student section, "VolleyZou."

Yet, while crowds and the comforts of home factor into MU's Jekyll and Hyde act, it all comes back to the one thing Kreklow has preached all season long. And that's consistency.

"We're kind of inconsistent right now," freshman Priscilla Armendariz said. "We're a good team when we play our game. If we play our game on the road, we're going to win, no matter what."

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