Newcomers get experience in annual Black & Gold Game

Eleven underclassmen took to the court in the 3-0 Gold victory VolleyballBlackGold

Before the annual volleyball Black & Gold scrimmage even began, the theme of youth had already settled over the Hearnes Center.

Children coming from a free youth clinic held at the facility’s field house were flooding the arena. Stacks of CiCi’s Pizza boxes were waiting for them. Truman the Tiger flung his arms wide and the kids high-tailed into him.

Then the Missouri volleyball team of 14, including 11 underclassmen (seven freshman) stepped to the floor. The theme of youth would continue as the Missouri Tigers’ new-look volleyball team showcased itself in the annual Black & Gold Scrimmage.

The opening act of the scrimmage, a warm-up game coach Wayne Kreklow orchestrated to test how players adjusted to quick transition, showed inexperience.

Molly Kreklow, still only a sophomore, found herself fulfilling a veteran role. After a freshman year in which she led the team in assists and stepped into the national spotlight as the AVCA Central Region Freshman of the Year, Kreklow said she knows this season’s role will be more than just performing well.

“Last year, I know I had five seniors around me who were leaders,” Kreklow said. “This year, I know I have to be someone to help [freshmen] mentally and emotionally. Just letting them know everything’s okay, that they’re doing great.”

By the end of the scrimmage, Kreklow wasn’t the only one showing signs of growing up early.

The gold team prevailed in a 3-set game and a freshman clinic was on full display.

Whitney Little (Keller, TX) at 6-foot-3 was a force in the middle and finished with 11 kills. Katie O’Brien played a role in the attacking game and showed her worth as a weapon. Defensive specialist Jade Hayes had 11 digs.

It was outside hitter Emily Wilson (Omaha, Neb.) who may have shined the brightest.

Teammates struggled to answer to Wilson’s dominant presence in front of the net. She swatted ferociously and almost flawlessly, recording 16 kills on .368 hitting.

After the scrimmage, Kreklow suggested Wilson’s game was one that the youthful team needed to emulate.

“It’s something they all need to do,” Kreklow said. “Taking smart swings while eliminating errors.”

It was underclassmen that were filling the voids left by graduates at the scrimmage. Gone is Paola Ampudia, who currently plays professionally in Columbia after breaking the school’s season record for attacks. Gone is libero Caitlyn Vann, who also etched her name in record books by becoming the program’s all-time leader in digs.

“We know as coaches that we can’t expect from them [the freshmen] the things we expected from Pao and Vann,” Kreklow said.

He added that with the recruiting class all coming from different playing systems, there is room for growth throughout the season. The freshmen will have to blend with the returners’ styles, he mentioned. Adjusting to a college-level schedule is another thing.

There was a wide smile on Wilson’s face after the game.

“I thought it was a lot of fun,” she said of her first Black & Gold scrimmage. “I know what I need to improve on. I need to keep working hard in practice and being the best practice player I can be.”

Brittney Brimmage, one of the two seniors on the team and one of its strong anchors that led the Tigers to a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA Tournament last year, was standing close by, ready to compete against teams other than her own.

“They think we’re this young team,” she said. “But I want to show them that we’re as good as last season.”

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