Future looks bright for Missouri volleyball after surprising success in 2018

Wayne Kreklow will lose a star in Alyssa Munlyn in his 20th season atop the program, but a 24-8 year was a promising omen for the returning cast.
Missouri volleyball coach Wayne Kreklow has been at the helm of coaching the program for about two decades, but his staff has always been a family affair, with his wife, Susan, coaching since he took over the program and his niece, Molly Taylor, helping coach the program the last two seasons.

It was meant to be a rebuilding year. But at season’s end, Missouri volleyball had made its fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, losing to No. 6 Nebraska in the second round.

Missouri (24-8, 13-5 SEC) finished the regular season ranked No. 24 in the country. Despite an earlier exit from the tournament than the last two seasons, the team’s success in 2018 season spoke volumes about the team coach Wayne Kreklow assembled.

Coming into the season, seven of the 14 players on the roster were newcomers, including three freshmen, one of which was also amongst a resounding six transfers. Without having the spring to train as a cohesive unit, it took awhile to find what worked.

“We knew coming in that it would be a challenge with all the youth that we had,” Kreklow said in a phone interview. “We went through the typical growing pains when you put a group like this together.”

On the court, the group grew together around its leader, senior Alyssa Munlyn. Munlyn, who will graduate from MU this month, finished her career as the program leader in total blocks, block assists, blocks per set and hitting percentage. She is also second in program history in solo blocks, the asset she became most known for throughout her career.

“[Munlyn] was the consistent, steady, mature voice that this group needed,” Kreklow said. “I have a ton of respect for the role that she shouldered.”

In 2018, Munlyn was second in the SEC in hitting percentage and blocks. She was named an American Volleyball Coaches Association All-American for the fourth straight year — another program record — as well as All-SEC by the league office and AVCA Southeast All-Region.

Led by Munlyn, the young team went into SEC play 10-2. Still fairly unproven, the Tigers started conference play by rolling over then No. 25 Alabama, then Arkansas.

After losing two matches in a row to Tennessee and then No. 19 Kentucky, Missouri began to show its full potential.

The team went on an eight-game winning streak, including 14 consecutive set wins across five matches and a five-set upset of No. 11 Florida. The next day, Missouri moved into No. 24 on the AVCA poll and never left the top 25.

Though the team scuffled the last stretch of the season, it was an overwhelming success when looking at the year as a whole.

For what appeared to be an upstart roster, Kreklow’s team was appropriately rewarded. Kylie Deberg joined Munlyn in being named an All American, Southeast All-Region and All-SEC.

Sophomores Dariana Hollingsworth and Leketor Member-Meneh were named All-SEC as well. Redshirt freshman Andrea Fuentes was named to the SEC All-Freshman team.

Deberg and sophomore Tyanna Omazic both transferred from Illinois after the 2017 season, meaning they did not have the full extent of preparation they will have this spring.

The Illinois transfers will hold important roles on a 2019 team that will not have much roster turnover from this season. The team will also see the return of Kayla Caffey, who missed all of 2018 with a leg injury, and welcome three freshmen.

“We’ll be able to have the bulk of our group intact throughout the spring, which will help with training because you’re going to be working with a lot of the people you’re going to have next fall on the court,” Kreklow said. “Last year at this time, we were pretty short-handed.”

The 2019 season will also mark the 20th for Kreklow and his wife, Susan, as the leaders of the program. While Kreklow’s career numbers aren’t much more than digits to him, he says reaching two decades at MU carries more significance.

“When you sit back and think about it, it’s certainly a long time,” Kreklow said. “There are times when you’re driving or your mind wanders a little bit and you think about the number of years we’ve been doing this; all the teams, people and faces. We’ve been really lucky to have been here and lasted that long.”

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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