Volleyball tastes ‘sweet’ victory over No. 21 Oklahoma

The team said it gained confidence in the upset win after back-to-back losses.

The Missouri volleyball bench stormed the court and celebrated after vanquishing No. 21 Oklahoma in a 3-0 sweep Saturday night at the Hearnes Center, and even coach Wayne Kreklow, who kept a steady look on his face throughout the game, couldn’t resist excitement.

He walked onto the court, poked his head into the mosh pit the players had formed and yelled, “Sweet!”

“Some years ago, I yelled out ‘Sweet’ in the locker room,” Kreklow recalled, smiling. “It’s become something where (players) are wondering, Is he gonna do it? So I only do it on big occasions. Today was special.”

Indeed, the Tigers (18-9, 4-6) tasted victory Oklahoma (19-6, 6-3), a game that marked the program’s first win over a ranked opponent since Northern Iowa on Dec. 3, 2010 in the NCAA Tournament.

The win came after back-to-back losses on the road to Texas and Kansas State. The team fell to Kansas State in yet another five-set disappointment for the second time this season against the Wildcats on Wednesday. It was the fifth loss in a fifth-set decision for the team on the year.

“That was a really upsetting match,” freshman hitter Emily Wilson said. “Coach kind of told us we could either let that happen again or come out (to practice), work really hard and prove people wrong.”

Following practice Wednesday and Thursday, the squad entered the first set and played perhaps the most pristine set of Big 12 play. En route to the 25-21 win, the Tigers’ attack kept the Sooners’ defense flurrying, keeping players out of position.

And the second set was perhaps one of the Tigers’ more dramatic frames of the season. OU commanded the set, at one point leading it 22-18. During one timeout in the set, players huddled around eachother and freshman Sarah Meister insisted, “Keep fighting,” she said. “Keep fighting.”

During the service arm of senior libero Priscilla Armendariz, the team strung together five unanswered points and went on to take the set, 25-23.

Inside the MU locker room, senior hitter Lisa Henning reminded her team of the fifth set loss it suffered at the beginning of the month to OU.

“We needed to focus,” she said. “We just need to come out with intensity and not let them back into it. I think we understood that was a team that could come back from being down 2-0.”

Focus was an emphasis during practice at Hearnes on Thursday and Friday, Kreklow said.

“After K-State my question for them was, How bad do you feel right now?” Kreklow said. “You have to feel bad enough the next day to come back at practice to know (what you have to do to be better). We talk about being in shape physically and mentally.”

The third set was a bout, a period that showed a constant point exchange between both teams. They only hit .091 in the set, but somehow, the team was able to edge OU for it second sweep of the past 15 games.

Kreklow said he was happy to see the win. He was glad to see Henning, who finished with a game-leading 18 kills, her most since Oct. 18, to look dominant again. He was thrilled to watch Wilson swing the powerful way she did while tallying 17 kills, her best since Sept. 17. She led the team in attacks.

But it was his team’s preparation that he kept talking about.

He was particularly proud of what his team did Friday night, something that had nothing to do with his instruction. For the first time all season, players organized a bonding event, a chance when every teammate had a seem in their schedule. They all had dinner and went to a corn maze.

“What I thought was really good was that as a group they all did something together,” Kreklow said. “As coaches we can prod and suggest but at some point, the team has to take ownership at some point. You could feel a better sense of togetherness. Slowly but surely they’re gaining a little bit of confidence in eachother and that’s a big thing.”

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