Volleyball juniors have something new to prove

Little, Meister and Wilson take up the leadership mantle.

The 15 minutes of fame haven’t even begun to fade.

In the wake of its historic 35-1 season, the Missouri women’s volleyball team has kept on rolling. After a shocking upset from Purdue in the second round of the NCAA tournament, the Tigers jumped straight into preparing for the season ahead.

Leading the charge are juniors Emily Wilson, Whitney Little and Sarah Meister, the team’s new leadership force.

“It’s different. It’s new,” Wilson said. “But we kind of have been thrown into the roles now, and right away we’re having to step up and do things and just make sure everyone’s on the same page with everything. It’s different, but we’re definitely ready to take on those roles.”

And they’ll have plenty of opportunities to adjust during the Tigers’ rigorous offseason training schedule. The players work out six days per week, rotating between strength training, Insanity workouts, hot yoga and traditional practices.

Meister, a journalism major, updates a weekly blog that tracks the team’s progress and training sessions.

“I love the defensive stuff, getting back into it,” the libero said. “Working on our roles and digging has been really fun, and everyone’s gotten really intense workouts from there.”

Between workouts, the Tigers have kept busy, still reveling in the aftermath of winning Missouri’s first-ever Southeastern Conference championship. The women were fitted for their championship rings Feb. 10. The team has been honored at events including a Missouri football game, a women’s basketball game and breakfast with the Board of Curators. The players are also due to be celebrated at the Missouri State Capitol on Monday.

“It’s honestly amazing,” Meister said. “I never thought from where we were two years ago that we’d be here today. So that’s pretty cool, to know that in the face of adversity hard work truly pays off, and it’s probably the most rewarding thing.”

If their prolonged stay in the public eye has made them anxious, they don’t show it.

“I think we’re not as self-conscious as motivated,” Little said. “Coming in after Molly (Kreklow) and Lisa (Henning), who did a great job — they were always our leaders since freshman year — and this being the first year not playing with them. … It’s going to be motivation to fill some pretty big shoes.”

In following the legacy left by All-American setter Kreklow and All-American hitter Henning, however, Meister says she and her fellow juniors are eager to forge their own path.

“Molly and Lisa, the way they led the team is completely different from the way we’re going to lead the team,” she said. “Yes, we’ll carry on the traditions. We’re going to carry on the hard work, but we’re all very different people, and we have very different leadership styles. The three of us — Whitney, myself and Emily — it’s kind of fallen into place.”

The three juniors, along with SEC Freshman of the Year Carly Kan, will be in Colorado starting Friday for the collegiate U.S. Women’s Volleyball National Team tryouts.

Even with the prospect of an exciting new season looming up ahead, the team still feels the sting of its unexpected season-ending loss against Purdue — the first loss endured all year.

“I am very bitter about it,” Little admitted. “But I mean, it’s good motivation. I look back at the season, and I guess I should look at the greats: We had a great record, we did great things, but the only thing I think about is that loss. Whenever I look back I just think of that last game, and I don’t think about anything else. At least it hasn’t sunk in yet, and I’m sure it will whenever I’m done playing.”

But for now, that day has yet to come. Little smiles and jogs away onto the court, back into the spotlight.

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