Mizzou dominates Tiger Invitational

Carly Kan said these types of tournament are “helpful in determining what kind of team you are.”

The time had come to define what type of team they would be.

During the Tiger Invitational on Friday and Saturday, the Missouri volleyball team fired up the Hearnes Center in front of its home crowd, sweeping the competition one set at a time. After facing North Dakota State, Northern Texas and Winthrop, the Tigers kicked off their preseason with three wins, showing what type of squad they can be.

“Its testing us,” outside hitter Carly Kan said. “Can you come back the next day and do it again? That’s what the preseason’s about — learning your weaknesses and seeing your strengths as a team. I think it's helpful in determining what kind of team you are.”

The tournament began with a back and forth battle against the North Dakota State Bison, totaling 11 ties and four lead changes by the end of the match. Early in the first set, the Bison took a two-point lead that the Tigers would not be able to overcome. Despite several energetic rallies for the lead, North Dakota State held their advantage until the end, winning 25-22.

The second set was a separate story. Led by Kan, Mizzou took an early lead, expanding its initial leverage from three points to nine. With their “first game jitters out,” the players grabbed the momentum and stuck with it as they continued their dominance throughout the entire second and third sets, only to come to an obstacle halfway through the fourth.

“We were getting comfortable which is something we need to work on,” Kan said. “The energy was kind of flat.”

The lack of energy continued until halfway through the fifth set when the players kicked into high gear, taking advantage of the Bison’s missed serves and swings. Finally, the Tigers pulled away to clench their first home court victory.

“I was really proud of the kids and their ability to steady up when we were really in a tough spot there,” Mizzou coach Wayne Kreklow said. “The first game was really tough, we were really tight and they were playing really well.”

The Tigers continued their streak the next day against Winthrop as they overcame their five service errors in the first set to finish on top. In the second, errors continued to plague the black and gold. However, their offensive connection pushed them to a large lead that they would hold onto going into halftime.

“You can’t give points away,” Kreklow said. “We talk a lot about managing errors. You’re going to make errors but we need to manage how many we’re making and when we’re making them. You don’t allow yourself in a rhythm of your own.”

Despite Kreklow’s call for “coming out, providing energy,” the team began the third set in a hole. Down by six, Kreklow called a timeout to tell his players they “can’t accept this.” Following the break of the huddle, the Tigers automatically tightened their defense and grinded out their offense to come back and take their second victory at home.

The final match was the smoothest ride of them all. Wherever the Tigers needed consistency in the previous match, they found it. After an even start in all three sets, the team was able to pull away with scrappy streaks and unstoppable offense. The Tigers’ front row put on a show, hitting .411. However, the front row’s offensive opportunities wouldn’t have been possible without the players behind them.

“We were passing so well,” setter Courtney Eckenrode. “It was easy to run a quick tempo offense. With a quick tempo pass its way easier to run a quick tempo offense which leaves the hitters one on one. Also being able to distribute to any of our hitters, any time. They’re all always up and all always ready. We had kills distributed throughout everyone.”

With their final game wrapped up in three sets, the Tigers claimed the title, an honor they had not accomplished just a year ago. However, for Kreklow, the finish was not about looking back, but forward to a continuation of the team’s hard work ethic.

“The takeaway for me as a coach is things like tonight happen because of the stuff that is going on in the gym Monday through Thursday,” Kreklow said. “Hopefully our takeaway is if you’re invested in the process in practice then its fun on nights like this, but this doesn’t happen without showing up and going to work everyday.”

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