Missouri volleyball’s depth outside is proving to be a strength for the Tigers

Melanie Crow, Sydney Deeken and Leketor Member-Meneh each have more than 100 kills this season.
Junior outside hitter Sydney Deeken, 14, goes for a hit during game two of Mizzou’s home match facing the University of Kentucky on Sunday, Oct. 23. 2016 Maneater File Photo

Missouri volleyball head coach Wayne Kreklow has a problem: His outside hitters are too talented.

His team’s trio of Melanie Crow, Sydney Deeken and Leketor Member-Meneh each have more than 100 kills this season and at least 2.4 kills per set.

The problem is that since they all play the same position, only two of them can be on the court at the same time while the third is forced to watch from the bench.

Put in this situation, another coach might have dropped one of the three players to a backup role, favoring the consistent use of the same two outside hitters.

But Kreklow instead opted to play all three regularly and to strategically use their individual strengths when they are most needed.

“You’re in a situation where you’ve got three [players] that all bring different things to the table,” Kreklow said. “As a coaching staff you have to decide ‘This person brings this and we need this right now, or maybe that person is best suited in this role.’”

Crow, a redshirt senior, has been a strong, dependable option in her second year as a Tiger. The returning All-SEC player missed a few matches early in the season due to a leg injury suffered against Middle Tennessee on Aug. 25 but has been on fire since her return. Crow leads the three outside hitters with eight serving aces and has the second most kills per set (2.45) on the team.

Although the 2016 season was Crow’s first playing for Mizzou, she had previously been a regular starter for Ole Miss for three years. That experience is what really sets her apart from her teammates.

“Experience is a big factor; she’s a fifth-year senior,” Kreklow said. “She’s played a lot, and she provides a lot of firepower for us out there and is a very good hitter. She has a great jump serve.”

Crow is also the most well-rounded outside hitter on the team, as she is the only one who has regularly played in the back row during her collegiate career.

“[Crow] just does it all,” Member-Meneh said.

Deeken has seen an enormous increase in playing time this season as a senior, and she has made the most of her opportunity. The newly appointed starter leads the outside hitters on the team with 168 kills, 47 total blocks and 71 digs.

Where Deeken really stands out in relation to the other outside hitters is her blocking ability. Standing at 6 feet 1 inch, 15 of Deeken’s 47 total blocks have been solo blocks.

“[Deeken] is a very good intuitive blocker,” Kreklow said. “She has good timing and good instincts. She’s long and puts up a pretty good block. She’s very athletic so she jumps well; she reaches high.”

While Deeken may not have the power of some outsides, she has demonstrated an ability to place the ball in areas where the opposing defense can not reach it.

“[With Deeken] it’s more hitting around the block and being able to make those quick decisions,” Crow said. “She’s able to do a whole variety of shots and that’s more her being able to see the block well.”

Freshman Member-Meneh has proven to be the most explosive hitter on the team. The Lutheran High School South alumna is only 5 foot 8 inches, but her incredible leaping ability more than makes up for it. Member-Meneh leads the outside hitters with a .237 hitting percentage and leads the team with 2.53 kills per set.

“[Member-Meneh] is probably one of the more physical, athletic, powerful kids that we’ve had here at Mizzou,” Kreklow said. “She’s a great leaper and she hits a very heavy ball. She’s the person that can hit with enough pace and power to literally score any time she swings.”

Not only can she jump, but Member-Meneh also has the strongest swing on the team.

“[Member-Meneh] is a very strong power hitter,” Crow said. “She can just drill the ball into people’s hands and hit the crap out of it.”

Recently, Kreklow has consistently started the two seniors and then substituted Member-Meneh in whenever the offense has needed a spark.

“We have gone with [Crow] and [Deeken] as the ones that begin the match, and then we’ve used [Member-Meneh] as the instant offense off the bench,” Kreklow said. “So if somebody is struggling or if we need to change the pace of the game, [Member-Meneh] has been a great person to bring in. Having the three of them has been a big plus for us because it allows us to make adjustments based on who we’re playing and how things are going. It’s a big advantage to have three quality players like that.”

It has been a bit of a struggle for Member-Meneh to adjust to her limited role on the team. The high school star is used to being the focal point of the attack, having been named the 2016 Missouri High School Volleyball Coaches Association Missouri Volleyball Player of the Year.

“It’s been really rough, but it has taught me a lot,” Member-Meneh said. “I’m just trying to work on my skills every day in practice, trying to see what I can do better to help myself in the long run, and to just be ready whenever they need me so that I am there. It has been a hard transition and I’m still struggling with it, but it gets better every day. It’s a good learning experience.”

In the spring, however, the two upperclassmen will graduate, and a sophomore Member-Meneh will lead the Tiger attack into the 2018 season and beyond.

“Right now I’m working on the little things,” Member-Meneh said. “I’m good at the big things, like hitting, but now they are developing my blocking, my coverage, my passing. That’s what this year is giving me. Those little things that are going to be key for me next year when they leave. That way I’ll have the whole package instead of having one part of the package.”

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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