Transformed Missouri volleyball primed for season openers at James Madison Invitational

The Tigers play their first matches this weekend against Delaware State, Fairfield and James Madison.
Maneater File Photo

The overwhelming sense at Missouri volleyball’s final preseason media availability Tuesday afternoon was one of eager anticipation. The Tigers can’t wait to start the 2018 campaign this Friday.

“I’m so excited for the season to start,” redshirt junior Riley Sents said. “We’ve been putting in a lot of work this whole summer with 6:30 a.m. workouts and open gyms everyday. We’re finally gonna play someone other than ourselves and I think we’re all really excited.”

Sophomore Kylie Deberg shares her teammate’s enthusiasm, as this weekend will be the first time Deberg officially lines up with Sents and the rest of the Missouri squad. In fact, this weekend will be the first time seven of the Tigers line up for Missouri, who added six transfers and a true freshman to its roster in the offseason.

Coach Wayne Kreklow opened up on Tuesday about his initial struggles trying to get his new team on the same page.

“You have to remind everybody we have a lot of new people,” Kreklow said. “The last couple of years we’ve been really fortunate, because for two years in a row we had the bulk of the team pretty intact coming back from the year before. [This year] we’re just at a way different place. I think right now, they have high expectations for themselves and sometimes it gets a little ugly out here right now.

Kreklow has preached patience with the team’s acclimation since the beginning of practices earlier in August.

“There is a ton of potential out there obviously, but unfortunately it moves at its own pace and you can’t force that,” he said. “It just takes reps and it takes time. You can’t cheat it, it just is what it is.”

The potential is indeed there, but Missouri’s young team needs leadership to reach it. Enter Sents and senior Alyssa Munlyn, the team’s only returning starters who are upperclassmen.

“That’s the one thing that’s been really valuable for us,” Kreklow said. “In Alyssa and Riley, you have two people that have played quite a bit, that are also pretty solid and steady on the court. Alyssa’s kind of the composed, steady [player]. Riley’s kind of the upbeat, bubbly, positive kind of person. That’s really valuable, because you’ve got Leketor [Member-Meneh] out there who’s a sophomore, you’ve got two freshmen who have never set a collegiate match before, and you’ve got Tyanna [Omazic], Kylie, all these [new] people. So it helps to have a couple of [older] people.”

Sents has noticed this transition into being one of the leaders on the team, and has embraced her new role.

“I think I have a big vocal responsibility,” Sents said. “If you watch us play I really am the type of person just naturally to be jumping up and down and to be excited, so I think that’s the biggest responsibility that I’ve felt, to bring a voice to the team and have energy. [Coach Kreklow] has kind of talked to me about being that vocal leader. I think it’s kind of a natural thing for me.”

Deberg says that Sents and the other veterans have also been key in integrating the staggering amount of new transfers and making them feel at home in their team and new school.

“They helped right away,” Deberg said. “Right when we got here, anything that we needed we would just ask them, and they would help us no matter what. I think we’ve been able to fit right in and super easily.”

Amid all this chaos of transfers, chemistry and leadership, it’s easy to forget that Missouri will travel to Harrisonburg, Virginia this weekend to play in the James Madison Invitational. Kreklow of course would like to record three victories against Delaware State, Fairfield and James Madison, respectively, but the results are not the most important thing for him.

“It’s just getting more comfortable playing with each other,” Kreklow said. “Even today, we’re coming down [to practice] with three different lineups we need to look at, so trying to figure out who best fits where. Part of that is just you have to go out and play.”

Don’t tell that to Deberg and the Tigers, though. Their excitement for these matches stems from the fact that they can finally put all of these questions about inexperience and cohesion behind them, and instead let their play do the talking.

What would Deberg consider a successful tournament?

“To win them all.”

Edited by Bennett Durando |

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