In its home opener, Missouri volleyball falls to Kentucky

The Tigers let a win slip through their fingers following their first-set success.

Only a few points into a nationally-televised game, Tyanna Ozamic, a key player in Missouri’s defense, was carried off the court by coach Joshua Taylor after an awkward landing and an apparent injury.

The Hearnes Center fell to a hush as the athletic trainers rushed to the aid of Ozamic. Her teammates huddled behind her, and the team was left visibly shaken following her removal from the game.

“When you play a really good team like this, the match is already emotional,” Taylor said. “But when you have something like that, it makes it even worse.”

Despite the frightening injury, Missouri was able to capitalize on the Wildcats’ trouble on serve receive and maintain a strong lead through the beginning of the first set. The entire team felt it was necessary to push through the rest of the first set for Ozamic.

“We were going to play for her, no matter what,” outside hitter Anna Dixon said. “We knew we wanted to finish that set for her.”

The Tigers were able to keep Kentucky at bay in the first set and took the lead with a 25-23 win. This would be the only win for Missouri, as they dropped the next three sets against No. 3 Kentucky in a top 10 SEC showdown.

The Tigers started the second set strong by utilizing the entire court with tips, pushes and attacks. Missouri had 25 kills in the second set alone, but many of them came from spotting holes in the Kentucky defense and working against the block.

As the Tigers neared the 25-point mark, the loss of Ozamic – who totaled 11 blocks against Alabama and was the SEC Defensive Player of the Week – became glaringly apparent.
In theory, blocks should take away options for hitters, but Missouri’s blockers could not consistently take away parts of the court at the end of the second set and then in both the third and final sets. The Tiger’s defensive specialists were forced to cover more ground because of Missouri’s inability to make it to the pins. This led to more kills for Kentucky hitters and more out-of-system plays for the Missouri offense.

Because the rules of volleyball dictate that victory must be earned with a two-point lead, the set was extended by both team’s inability to put it away in back-to-back points. Each team’s defense struggled during the extended set, as nearly every point scored was via kill.

On the seventh set point of the set, Kentucky’s Alli Stumler secured a Wildcats set two victory, by a score of 35-33, with a kill to tie the game at a set apiece.

“I think our adrenaline was super high, it was a great match,” Kansas State transfer Dixon said. “But after that set, it was a long one, we mentally got away from our scouting report and what we were wanting to do.”

Dixon was able to step up in Ozamic’s absence, earning 10 kills in the long second set. The outside hitter had 18 kills in the game and finished with a .324 hitting percentage.

“I have to keep in mind that she’s a sophomore. I think of her as a four-year starter just with how mature of a game she plays,” Taylor said of Dixon’s performance. “She’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.”

Dixon’s immense success in the first two sets was exactly what the Tigers needed to remain in the game. However, after the second set, the Kentucky defense was able to do what Missouri’s could not: block. Dixon totaled only four kills in the final two sets.

After the marathon of the second set, the Tigers looked mentally exhausted when they took the court to begin the third set. This exhaustion was due, in part, to Kentucky’s showcase of one of the strongest offenses in the country. They steamrolled ahead, and in set four, they only allowed the Tigers to get within one point a singular time.

The Wildcats would go on to secure the victory with wins in both sets three and four with scores of 25-20 and 25-18, respectively.

Heading into game two of the series, Taylor emphasized the necessity of the middle blockers’ ability to put their hands on the ball and give the defense a little more to work with against a strong outside hitting team.

“We are gonna need a little more from our middles to take up more court when it comes to closing out to the pin,” Taylor said.

Given the uniqueness of the season, Missouri will gear up for a quick turn-around. They must mentally prepare for another game tonight against a very strong offensive team in Kentucky.

“We have to take tomorrow for the match that it is and not let tonight influence it at all, especially our emotions,” Taylor said. “We just need to come in and execute our game plan and play disciplined volleyball.”

Missouri will take on Kentucky tonight on ESPNU at 8 p.m.

Edited by Jack Soble | jsoble@themaneater.com

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