Missouri volleyball’s precise attacks keep Alabama at bay in opening series

Sophomore standout Anna Dixon and two seniors lead a surging Tigers’ offense.

Tyanna Omazic stepped behind the service line on Thursday night in Tuscaloosa, Ala. and floated a serve to Alabama libero Madelyn St. Germain at the start of a tight first set. St. Germain dove to the floor and popped the ball up, just out of the reach of her setter, Riley Fisbeck.

St. Germain broke one of the unwritten rules of volleyball: never overpass on serve receive.

The Tide dropped to a defensive position the moment the ball left St. Germain’s passing platform but could not recover from the fatal mistake as Kylie Deberg, the SEC Overall Offensive Player of the Week, slammed a kill into the hands of an Alabama blocker.

The Missouri offense did not slow down the rest of the game after Deberg’s second kill in back-to-back plays to pull away in the first set.

In game two especially, the Tide struggled consistently on the first ball, both on serve receive and attacks by Missouri hitters. The Tigers capitalized on several free balls and overpasses by the Alabama defense. Missouri’s offense developed several kills and rallies that kept the Tide on their toes as the team’s hitting percentage reached a season-best .412.

Through the Tide’s first games, the Missouri offense forced them to make plays while out of rotation. Even when these out-of-rotation plays resulted in attacks, they rarely froze the Missouri defense, who was still able to give the second ball to Andrea Fuentes, the SEC Setter of the Week.

Fuentes had 73 assists throughout the two-game series, exemplifying how often the Missouri offense was able to make attacks while in rotation, while contrasting from the Alabama defense that could not consistently stay in rotation following attacks by Missouri hitters.

During the series, seniors Deberg and Omazic confirmed their All-SEC status after being named to the preseason squad on Oct. 7. Deberg and Kansas State transfer Anna Dixon led the team with nine kills on Thursday night, and Omazic had six of the team’s 11 blocks.

Missouri’s offense runs through Deberg and Omazic, and when given the chance, Alabama’s defense could not keep up with the firepower of Missouri’s attackers. The Crimson Tide’s defensive specialists had trouble getting the ball in front of the 10-foot line for setter Fisbeck to set her hitters on the net.

The Alabama hitters could not make the adjustments, and they had several attack errors on out-of-system passes that limited their chances against a fantastic Missouri offense. While one could easily blame Alabama’s defense and 28 missed serves for the series loss, credit must be given to the Missouri hitters.

Missouri made 17 attack errors during Wednesday’s four sets against the Crimson Tide. After Missouri’s 3-1 win, coach Joshua Taylor said fatigue and rust was evident between both teams, which can be expected after such a long break from live-action games. By Thursday, the Tigers had adapted, only making four attack errors in three sets and cutting their serving errors in half, too, from 14 in Game 1 to just seven on Thursday night.

Missouri will need to continue to elevate its offense going into this week’s series against No. 3 Kentucky. Staying in rotation and utilizing all three hitting options will be key to success against a team as powerful as the Wildcats. Kentucky proved their offense is a force to be reckoned with after putting up 110 kills against Tennessee last week.

Edited by Jack Soble | jsoble@themaneater.com

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