No. 9 Missouri volleyball can't overcome sloppy play as it drops final game to No. 3 Kentucky

Serve receive and transition mishaps overpowered the Tigers' defense.

The serve sailed over the heads of the Missouri passers and dropped just in front of the end line. Every head on the court shot towards the line judge, who flashed the flag towards the line, signaling an ace for Kentucky.

The crowd let out a breath they hadn’t realized they’d been holding as the realization hit: this was sloppy volleyball.

On back-to-back nights, the Tigers were able to set the pace in the first set and put themselves ahead but ultimately collapsed as the game continued. Just like Wednesday, the Tigers dropped three consecutive sets to No. 3 Kentucky in a crucial top 10 Southeastern Conference matchup.

The Kentucky servers stunned the Tigers’ defense on multiple occasions. Missouri had several dropped balls on serve receive which accounted for the seven aces on Kentucky’s stat line. The Wildcats relied on the seams of the court against the Missouri serve receive for the majority of their success.

Coach Joshua Taylor did not credit Kentucky servers — other than that their serves were routinely in play — but stressed that the Wildcats’ success was rooted in Missouri’s inability to pass consistently.

“When you start a set passing poorly, it’s hard to get any kind of rhythm going,” Taylor said. “We kind of lost sight of what we needed to do to perform that skill well.”

In the first set, the Tigers were able to keep their own pace, slow the game down and execute their game plan against a deep Kentucky roster. When the game advanced to the later sets, a lack of control forced Missouri to make undisciplined plays that gave the Wildcats an advantage.

As the game wore on, and the Tigers made more and more mistakes, the body language of Missouri players exposed their mental exhaustion. The collapse of the Missouri defense was due in part to the chaotic nature of their errors.

The Tigers played sluggishly and made several fixable mistakes, like unnecessarily passing with one arm, not transitioning properly on defense and failing to read the Kentucky offense.

Under pressure, the Tigers were unable to compete with Kentucky, which finished with 63 kills. Missouri started strong but would occasionally lose focus during significant plays.

“We weren’t always tough in those moments,” Taylor said. “It was a little disheartening. We beat ourselves tonight.”

The Tigers made a vast improvement with their blocking during Thursday night’s game. After Tyanna Ozamic, Missouri’s star blocker, went down with an injury Wednesday in the first set, the Missouri defense struggled to put together a consistent block game and forced the passers to cover holes in the block.

While they were better on Thursday, they received bad news after Missouri discovered that Ozamic will miss the season with a torn ACL. Though the Tigers matched Kentucky at eight blocks apiece, Missouri clearly still had room for development.

At times, a slightly late block gave Kentucky the room they needed to get the kill. This put pressure on a defense that was already laboring more than they had in any of their other previous three games.

Next week, Missouri will face Arkansas on Wednesday and Thursday at the Hearnes Center. To prepare, Kansas State transfer Anna Dixon highlighted areas of improvement.

“We need to limit the number of runs they go on,” Dixon said. “We just need to focus on what we can do on our side.”

Most importantly, Missouri needs to focus on breaking out of the mental block they fell into during the last three sets of Thursday’s game after the Wildcats outscored Missouri by 25 points.

“These matches are over, and we can’t linger on them,” Taylor said. “Arkansas is a pretty good team, and we are lucky to have them at home.”

Edited by Jack Soble | jsoble@themaneater.com

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