Tigers travel south for Blue Raider Bash

As freshmen adapt to life on the road, Missouri preps for weekend tournament in Tennessee.
Megan Hager / Graphic Designer

Before the sun showed its face over Columbia on Wednesday, the volleyball team was already up and going.

Players rose at about 5:30 a.m. and were bussed out to take an early flight to Tennessee. A day filled with film sessions and practices was still ahead of them after their plane landed. But first, the team, including its seven freshmen members on their first-ever college road trip, ate lunch at T.G.I. Friday’s.

“It’s really a lot of fun to be able to go out with everyone,” freshman front-liner Whitney Little said. “This feels like the real deal.”

On Thursday, the team took on Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro, Tenn. The result was not in before press time. The Tigers will now compete in the Blue Raider Bash from Friday through Tuesday, facing Austin Peay, East Tennessee State, Florida International and Auburn throughout the week.

Little and her freshman comrades got the chance to start their collegiate careers in impressive fashion after the team conquered its own Tiger Invitational last weekend without dropping a single set, beginning the season 4-0. Little led the team in blocks with 15 following the Invite. Freshmen produced highly in the tournament’s title run, all of them combining for 87 kills on .371 hitting and 56 digs.

“We all played really well,” Little said. “It was nice to win the first tournament. We’re all excited, but we’re here to just keep getting better and help out the best we can.”

After the Invite crown, coach Wayne Kreklow said he was pleased with the freshmen performances. However, he said he felt as if his team had yet to be truly tested.

“I want to see how we’re going to respond when we come out and start playing the real deal,” he said.

The “real deal” may be arriving for Kreklow and his team as the Bash marks the beginning of a grueling four-week campaign away from home. The Tigers won’t return to the Hearnes Center until the Sept. 24 match against Texas A&M. Such a schedule promises to be a major transition for freshmen, who will battle opponents while managing life on the road.

Fortunately, teammates who are familiar with such a grind are more than willing to act as support, Little said.

“They’re really helpful,” she said. “They help us 100 percent. They help us with school stuff and give us advice on time management and just adjustment overall. We can ask them anything and know that they’re always inviting and helpful.”

One of those teammates is sophomore setter Molly Kreklow, who a year ago was adapting to the college game while playing at a high level as a freshman. She was this week’s Big 12 Player of the Week after her dazzling MVP performance at the Tiger Invitational, where she displayed not only her setting ability (12.42 assists per set) but also a more balanced, finely tuned game.

“I’m wanting to do more of the same things, keeping players involved,” she said. “I want to keep working on being consistent with other things like swinging, digging and blocking.”

After all, Kreklow says she feels part of her responsibility as a returner on a young team is to contribute in other ways, on and off the court.

“Last year, I know I had five seniors around me who were leaders,” Kreklow said earlier in the season at the Black & Gold Scrimmage. “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.”

She says the schedule ahead will be a change of pace for her freshmen teammates but an exciting experience nonetheless.

“We have high expectations after last weekend,” she said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun on the road, and it’ll be a different challenge. The freshmen haven’t really traveled before, but I think we’ll be up for the challenge.”vol

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