Tigers bring out the brooms for Tiger Invitational

Volleyball coach Wayne Kreklow said his team showed resiliency in the season-opening tournament.
The Tigers jump in celebration as they score the last point of the first set Saturday night at the Hearnes Center. The Tigers eventually won the Tiger Invitational Championship after defeating North Dakota State 3-0.

Entering the 2011 season, volleyball coach Wayne Kreklow said he wanted to see “resiliency,” — a word he used often leading up to this weekend’s annual Tiger Invitational.

He would get a chance to see it in the first set of the tournament’s final match between Missouri and North Dakota State, a team boasting a seasoned roster with eight upperclassmen compared to the Tigers’ three.

Tensions scraped the rafters at the Hearnes Center with the set up for grabs. Neither team had dropped a set all weekend. The tournament crown was on the line.

The score see-sawed until finally, after freshman middle block Whitney Little and senior front-line player Brittney Brimmage blocked the attack of the Bison and notched scores, the set ended in the Tigers’ favor 26-24.

Two sets later, Missouri went on to make its fourth and final sweep of the tournament after getting past Binghamton and Idaho State on Friday and Tulane earlier Saturday in 3-0 matches.

“I thought that a lot of times we weren’t really pushed,” Kreklow said. “But Tulane and NDSU really pushed us. We had to battle these guys and earn every point."

With a group of 11 underclassmen, including seven freshmen, the Tigers were named champions of their own tournament for a fourth consecutive year.

“So far, I’m very pleased with this young team,” Kreklow said.

Kreklow said he thought overcoming the Bison was a perfect way to earn the title.

“North Dakota State’s a great team," he said. "Very experienced. Very savvy. I knew we were going to have our hands full. I’m pleased with how our kids responded to being pushed to the limit by a team that didn’t back off. I was proud of how we played steady, composed and how they really took it up a notch.”

En route to the hardware, freshman outside hitter Emily Wilson began her college career with an electric start. She hit .488 with 46 kills and only five errors over the weekend. Her efforts earned her Big 12 Newcomer of the Week honors on Monday. She and Brimmage, who led the team hitting .538 in the tournament, were named to the All-Tournament team.

“I think I played well,” Wilson said. “I had expectations for myself and I think I did a good job of meeting those.”

Alongside Wilson, fellow freshmen got the chance to rattle nerves off in their college debuts. Little, towering at 6' 3" before the net, topped the team with 15 blocks total. Outside hitter Katie O’Brien played a role in the attacking game, and defensive specialists Sarah Meister and Jade Hayes contributed to a defense that limited opponents to .119 hitting.

“I was really pleased with how (the freshmen) progressed from start to finish,” Kreklow said. “They’re very focused. They want to be good and that’s half the battle. They want to do the things necessary to get there. There’s never any issues in practice. They’re always there, eager, listening, working hard at getting better at things.”

Much of the freshmen’s success came through the assistance of Molly Kreklow, the sophomore setter who was named tournament MVP for the second year in a row, and was named Big 12 Player of the Week for her strong weekend.

“(The freshmen) did really well,” Molly Kreklow said. “They’re really fun playing with. I have no problem setting to them with the game on the line. It’s fun to play with people who are really excited and want to be a part of it."

Molly Kreklow said she felt as if she were playing with experienced and familiar teammates.

"I really can’t tell they’re freshmen,” Molly Kreklow said.

The team now takes to the road for more tournament play before returning home for a Sept. 24 match with Texas A&M.

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