Missouri volleyball to replace five graduating seniors for the 2018 season

Kira Larson, Melanie Crow, Courtney Eckenrode, Ali Kreklow and Sydney Deeken will leave the program as one of its most successful senior classes, but how will the Tigers fill the gaps they leave behind?
Maneater File Photo

Second referee Brian Hemelgarn had made his decision. The instant replay showed that redshirt senior Kira Larson’s hit had indeed landed out of bounds and the call was confirmed as the match-winning point for Penn State.

The hitting error was the final play in Missouri volleyball’s 3-0 loss at the hands of the No. 1-ranked Nittany Lions in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament on Friday, Dec. 8, and the final play in the 2017 season for the Tigers.

It was also the final play of Larson’s collegiate career, and that of senior teammates Melanie Crow, Courtney Eckenrode, Ali Kreklow and Sydney Deeken. The seniors leave the program as one of the most successful classes in Mizzou history, having claimed the 2016 Southeastern Conference title, and also qualifying for back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances in 2016 and 2017.

However, the question remains: how will head coach Wayne Kreklow replace these five veterans for next season?

All five played regular minutes when healthy for Mizzou this season. Crow and Deeken split the rotation as the first choice outside hitters, Eckenrode and Kreklow split the rotation as the two setters in Kreklow’s 6-2 formation, and opposite hitter Larson was the only Tiger who consistently played all six rotations.

The outside hitter position would seem to have the most straightforward answer in preparation for next year. Freshman Leketor Member-Meneh was deputized in this role for much of this past season while Crow was sidelined due to injury. Member-Meneh recorded 197 kills in the 77 sets she played in, and had a hitting percentage of .264.

Kreklow has a few options regarding who else he puts in the lineup to fill the second outside hitting gap. He could move freshman opposite hitter Dariana Hollingsworth to the outside position, but she excelled in the opposite hitter position this year and Kreklow may opt to continue to utilize her in that position next year.

Junior Paige Perego is another tiger Kreklow may turn to. Perego has not been given many opportunities to play following her transfer to Mizzou before her sophomore year, but the baton might finally be handed to her for her senior year.

Also in contention will be 2018 recruit Sun Wenting. The 2017 AVCA Two-Year College First Team All-American from Miami Dade College will join the Tigers as a junior next year and the outside hitter will be looking for a place in the lineup as well.

Kreklow will also have his hands full when it comes to filling the setter position. As of now, freshman Andrea Fuentes is the only setter on the 2018 roster, which would make the 6-2 formation impossible. The team may switch to the 6-1 and have Fuentes be the sole setter in the rotation. This would also eliminate the need to replace Larson with another opposite hitter.

But Fuentes has yet to play in a set for the Tigers and this change would suddenly make her the most used player on the team. Fuentes’ talent in the setter position is obvious from her experience as a captain of the U20 Puerto Rican national volleyball team. However, it would require a lot of trust for Kreklow to effectively hand the keys of his offense to a sophomore in her collegiate debut.

The formation change would also limit Mizzou’s offensive diversity, as it takes away a hitter for half of the rotation.

In addition to Wenting, the Tigers will also add middle blocker Brynn Paumen, from Maple Lake High School in Minnesota, to the 2018 roster. But with two established middle blockers in the forms of junior Alyssa Munlyn and redshirt freshman Kayla Caffey, Paumen will most likely be a substitute until Munlyn graduates.

Edited by Joe Noser | jnoser@themaneater.com

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