Growing pains characterize volleyball gauntlet

The young team has only two seniors to rely on in Big 12 play.

Volleyball coach Wayne Kreklow stops practice. He’s not the kind of coach that gets red-faced. He’s clearly frustrated as he folds his arms, but he’s calm when he says, “Sarah, what are you supposed to do when that happens?”

Practice is quiet, eyes on the freshman defensive specialist who just fell short of corralling a hit from one of her teammates in scrimmage. “What are you supposed to do, Sarah?”

Sarah Meister, one of the seven freshmen on the court whose performance is depended on, knows that next time a ball missiles to her area she must have the footwork to get to it. Before Kreklow calls for practice to resume, senior libero Priscilla Armendariz, her frequent neighbor in the backcourt, gives her an encouraging pat on the back.

Meister and Armendariz shared a hotel room in Washington, D.C., last weekend. The two just endured a brutal 14-game road trip with their teammates. They all boarded planes bound for Tennessee, Colorado and Washington, D.C., the past three weekends.

“You almost lose track of the days,” Kreklow said. “Being on the road for so long, it’s a tough schedule. Especially for such a young team.”

Kreklow said that he could see the exhaust in his team, but when players talk about the time traveling, they light up.

“Road trips are always fun,” Armendariz said. “I love being able to room with different people. It’s fun to bond in a personal way with everyone.”

Another long road awaits the Tigers (13-4) as the Big 12 season begins. If the team wants to build on last year’s Sweet 16 run in the NCAA Tournament, it will have to go through three teams ranked in the nation’s Top 25.

The first matchup came against No. 16 Iowa State. The Cyclones swept the Tigers, who left the Hilton Coliseum seemingly overwhelmed.

“I think we struggled,” Kreklow said. “We definitely did not play our best volleyball and we have to play better. We just have to.”

Senior dynamo Brittney Brimmage entered the game leading the league in hitting percentage. But the Cyclone block targeted the hitter from the opening serve and she was unable to answer to constant double teams.

“She’s going to see that a lot from here on out,” Kreklow said. “She always has. She’s that dynamic of a player. She’ll have to work through it.”

Brimmage is at the helm of a young front line with freshmen Emily Wilson and Whitney Little adding to the rotation around her. She’s also at the top of her career, standing second in the league with a hitting percentage of .388. She’s powered the Tigers to .266 hitting on the season, third best in the Big 12.

On Wednesday, the squad swung its worst all season, hitting a season-low .191. ISU meanwhile marked a season-high at .402 as Cyclone hitters exploited a porous Tiger back line. Armendariz dug only seven balls in the game.

“We’re going to need those players to be consistent,” Kreklow said of Brimmage and Armendariz, the team’s only starters. “They play big roles on this team. We have young players looking up to them and they’ll have to perform.”

The Tigers will finally return home to play Texas A&M tomorrow at 2 p.m.

“Right now, it’s about us trying to be consistent,” said Armendariz, who needs six more digs for her career 1,000th. “When we’re clicking well together, we have high-level play.”

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