Volleyball busts Kansas to end drought

Missouri almost repeated its late-set mistakes but rallied to earn its first win of the month.

The Missouri volleyball team found itself in familiar yet frightening territory in the middle of the fourth set during Wednesday’s match with arch-nemesis Kansas.

Coach Wayne Kreklow was pacing up and down on the sidelines, his arms folded. Breathing in, breathing out, a nervous man trying to stay calm. His players on the court were wide eyed, like “deer in headlights,” as he later described.

Four days earlier, the team was in Waco, Texas, playing Baylor. The Tigers sailed through the first two sets and came out of halftime with the momentum. They didn’t take a set after that. It marked the third consecutive five-set loss, following defeats to Oklahoma and Kansas State.

And here were the Jayhawks threatening yet another fifth set. They took the third and jumped to command in the fourth, leading 8-2 at one point.

The players were feeling it.

“It was really frustrating,” sophomore hitter Lisa Henning said. “We knew what we were doing. We knew how to fix our mistakes but, it was like, 'Oh my gosh, here’s Baylor again.'”

The Hearnes Center was feeling it, all the souls in their seats that came to watch the rivalry on the night promoted as “Bust the House” night. The line of VolleyZou fans with "ROAST THE HAWK!" painted in gold on their bellies, the ones who tossed rivalry wisecracks outside the arena, such as "Kansas is rectangle but the people inside it are square!, " all remained still and silent.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel it as a coach,” Kreklow said. “You could feel it. My challenge is knowing that feeling is creeping in and knowing what to do about it.”

And so Kreklow remained calm as the set continued. He appeared positive, even. He clapped and nodded at players with every play they made, the good ones and the bad ones.

“I told them it wasn’t even about the score,” he said. “You have to keep focus on what’s directly in front of you.”

The score began to morph. The Tigers trailed 19-13.

Six scores later freshman hitter Whitney Little tapped the ball above the net, a smart touch that put the ball in a hole on the KU defense. The house was indeed busting as the team went up, 20-19.

It was Henning who would swing for a 53rd time in the game and score on her 27th kill, tied for her career best, which she marked in the fifth set at Baylor on Saturday.

After a flurry of point trading, freshman hitter Emily Wilson made a game-winning kill ending the match, 28-26. The bench flooded onto the court.

The Tigers (15-7, 2-4 conference) will now look to build on the win, their first of the month.

“I think when we get down, we feel like we need to do everything perfect,” Henning said. “But you don’t have to do everything perfect. Don’t worry about the scoreboard and just play. Just play naturally.”

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