Volleyball’s past and present collide with two Tigers

Molly Kreklow and Lindsey Hunter are helping each other in their career roles.
Senior setter Lindsey Hunter competes in the Senior Day volleyball game Nov. 26, 2005, in the Hearnes Center. Today, Hunter aids Missouri setter Molly Kreklow as an assistant coach for the Tigers volleyball team. Maneater File Photo

A seventh-grade Molly Kreklow sat in the stands with the focused look of a true student, as if the Hearnes Center was her classroom and the court a chalkboard to study.

The young Kreklow had finished practice at volleyball camp and was watching the Missouri team scrimmage. Frankly, she couldn't care less what the hitters and defenders were doing. Her attention was on one player, the one standing alert in front of the net with the number 2 printed on her back.

Kreklow hadn’t known she was watching Lindsey Hunter, a junior at the time. She hadn’t known she was watching an All-American setter, the one who would later be named Missouri Female Athlete of the Decade and placed in the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

She was simply told to watch Hunter. And so Kreklow did, perhaps feeling all the more determined to be the kind of setter that was down on the court.

Years later, Lindsey Hunter’s phone rang on a mid-February spring day in Puerto Rico, where she was playing professionally as captain for Valencianas de Juncos. Wayne Kreklow, her former coach at Missouri, was calling about the assistant coaching job for which she had applied.

“He asked me if I would consider it,” Hunter recalls. “He said, ‘We’d love to have you.’ It was exciting. Obviously I was more than happy to return to my alma mater.”

Hunter joined the staff following the program’s Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA Tournament, the deepest run since 2005 when Hunter anchored the team two sets within the Final Four. One key component in last year’s success was the overachieving play of a freshman setter.

Molly Kreklow arrived in Missouri from Delano, Minn., and immediately met the spotlight. She quickly became a blot on the national radar.

She was spreading the ball out to seasoned veterans then, to a rotation of upperclassmen. Now, Molly Kreklow is familiarizing herself with a batch of four freshman hitters. She is performing at a high level, leading the Big 12 in assists while lifting her team to an 11-2 record. But as one of the team’s few returners, Kreklow said she feels the pressure of a greater role, one that weighs heavy and forces her to grow early.

“I knew leaders would have to step up this year,” Molly Kreklow said. “I knew I was going to have to be one, but it’s tough. It’s uncomfortable to be a sophomore trying to do that.”

Molly Kreklow stops for a moment. Then she looks over at Hunter on the other side of the court at Hearnes, rolling out bins of volleyballs before practice starts.

“She really helps me out,” Molly Kreklow said. “Especially with how I can approach players. She’s really good with how she handles personal relationships. I know she was good with that as a setter and that’s what I’m trying to be."

After one of the most prolific careers of any Missouri athlete, Hunter has taken on a new role in her sport.

“I love being able to be here for these girls,” Hunter said. “It’s good being here for them with any questions they might have about balancing things or just about becoming an adult in general.”

Molly Kreklow asks for plenty of advice from Hunter about how to respond to different schemes and playing styles. After all, Hunter has seen just about all of them. But more than anything, she asks about the delicacy of her role.

“As a setter, it’s important to embrace leadership,” Hunter said. “She’s doing a really great job at that and obviously, she’s a great setter. Technically, she’s far above any setter in this country. She’s really fun to work with.”

Actually, it might be unfair to say Hunter’s playing days are behind her.

Every day at practice, you could watch and think Hunter was still in All-American form. She rotates in with the B squad as the opposing setter to Kreklow. And it's here through the nylon net where the two resemble each other more than ever: Two setters orchestrating the play, making players get involved. They’re past and present, helping to make each other better.

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