Tigers show growth in loss to Iowa State

Freshman hitter Whitney Little set the pace with eight kills.

The last time the freshmen of Missouri’s volleyball team met Iowa State, it was their first collegiate conference match and it was under the bright spotlight of ESPNU’s national broadcast. The nerves were flowing.

Those freshmen met the same Cyclone team Wednesday night at the Hearnes Center. But after a maturation process 12 games later, the group had a different feeling. And they looked nothing like the players on TV exactly eight weeks before.

“I think we’ve improved in every aspect of the game since the first time we played them," freshman hitter Katie O’Brien said. “The first time we played them, I know for me personally, I was really, really nervous. This game, all the jitters were gone. It was comfortable and I thought we played well against a really good team.”

MU (20-10, 6-7) lost the match in a 3-1 bout to the nation’s 13th ranked team. But the Tigers' 21st RPI standing (19 spots higher than they were before last season’s Sweet 16 run) could not too harshly be affected by the defeat. The Cyclones (20-4, 11-2) stand 3rd in RPI. But the Tigers played like they had everything to lose.

“It’s disappointing when you can’t come away with a win, but the next least thing you can do is making them earn it,” coach Wayne Kreklow said. “If they’re gonna leave with a win, then they’re gonna have to earn it; we’re not gonna give it to them. I do think our kids did a good job of making them do that.”

Indeed, the Tigers played a fiery first set and claimed it, 25-23. After what was perhaps one of the most impressive sets from MU all season, the next set was one of the sloppiest. The team was overwhelmed quickly by ISU, who rattled off a 15-3 scoring run at one point. MU was unable to claw out of the hole it fell in early and dropped the set 25-12.

Out of the locker room, the Tigers were resurgent and traded points back-and-forth with the Cyclones the remainder of the game. All throughout the third, neither team took a lead of over three points. Eventually, the Cyclones outlasted the Tigers and took the set 28-26.

At the start of the fourth, freshman hitter Whitney Little set the pace early as she swung six times and scored on five kills. Over the game, she totaled eight kills on .500 leading and stood defiant at the net creating three blocks.

Little has become the Tigers’ most imposing threat the net alongside senior blocker Brittney Brimmage.

“We were all scared, just terrified,” she said after the game, referring back to the first match with ISU. “But now we’ve gotten more used to it, there’s not those scary nerves any more. It’s more of excitement to play now instead of being scared if you’re gonna mess or that something is gonna go wrong.”

Other freshmen stood out in the game as well. O’Brien took responsibility on crucial plays for the Tigers and swung 34 times. Hitter Emily Wilson had nine kills. Defender Sarah Meister didn’t back down to the Cyclone attack, which slugged 70 kills, and finished with 12 digs.

In the end, the Tigers were once again unable to outlast the Cyclones.

“Some times you have to go through something like this as freshman and sophomores,” said Kreklow, “but the payoff literally comes a year from now when you’re back in game like this. Every time if you can learn from that and take a way the lessons, maybe next time will be our time.”

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