Five factors that helped send Mizzou volleyball to the Sweet 16

Consistency. For the majority of the season, the Tigers didn’t have it. Given Missouri’s melting pot of a core group of seniors with some far less experienced players, Missouri’s play — and its expectation level — fluctuated wildly between highs and lows. In non-conference, Mizzou looked like a Top 20 team in winning the Pepperdine Invitational in Malibu, Calif., but looked like an NCAA Tournament bubble team at best in going 2-2 at the Western Kentucky Invitational. The trend continued early in Big 12 play, when Mizzou looked solid in competitive losses to ranked Iowa State and Texas teams before turning around and losing to Kansas on the road.

Missouri’s consistency had been point-to-point, set-to-set for most of the year, but in Cedar Falls on Friday and Saturday, Missouri put together its most complete efforts of the season, which brings us to the next factor…

Timing. Missouri could not be peaking at a better time. The Tigers have taken 11 of their last 14 going back to one of their most pivotal matches of the year, a five-set win at Texas A&M on Oct. 13 in which momentum was completely against Mizzou after being run off the floor in the fourth set. Missouri needed its best effort of 2010 on Friday when facing No. 5 Northern Iowa, and for all intents and purposes, Missouri got it. In the process, the Tigers pulled off the biggest first-round upset since the NCAA began seeding teams in 2000. But after beating Northern Iowa, what Missouri needed most was a dose of…

Heart. “Epic.” That was the word coach Wayne Kreklow used to describe Missouri’s five-set upset of Northern Iowa. If the victory wasn’t impressive enough, the circumstances that followed added an extra layer. The MU/UNI match didn’t conclude until close to 11 p.m. Friday night and the majority of the Missouri players didn’t get to sleep until around 1 a.m. Saturday morning. They had to be on the floor 15 hours later for a 4 p.m. Saturday second-round match with Northwestern, whom Mizzou stormed 25-13 in the first set. After that though, Missouri appeared to tire a bit, and after dropping the second set and trailing in the third, Kreklow said his team was facing the “near-drowning” point in which his team could either give in or keep fighting. Despite fatigue, Missouri finished off Northwestern in four sets, largely by dictating…

Tempo. Mizzou faced a tough adjustment in tempo between Friday and Saturday. Northern Iowa ran what outside hitter Julianna Klein told radio analyst Lindsey Hunter was “the fastest offense [she’d] ever seen.” On Friday, Northern Iowa utilized setter Bre Payton — the MVC Player of the Year — to frequently run quick tempo sets to attack the middle of the court. Conversely, Northwestern utilized its more physical attackers, middle blockers Naomi Johnson and Sabel Moffett, slides toward the pin with longer-developing sets. Missouri adjusted beautifully, deflecting balls to slow them down for the back row. Outside of the second set, Missouri passed well, allowing setter Molly Kreklow to run the offense at her own pace. The result was…

Balance. How do you defend the Missouri offense? Do you focus on Paola Ampudia, especially out of the back row? Do you try to push a middle blocker out on Julianna Klein on the outside? Do you account for the power of Brittney Brimmage or the changeup from Weiwen Wang in the middle, or Catie Wilson on the slide to the right? Missouri’s efficiency has come from its unpredictability, and that theory was perfectly illustrated against Northwestern in the second round. Five different Tigers hit better than .300 in the match, led by freshman Lisa Henning’s career-best 18 kills on .556 hitting. Northwestern coach Keylor Chan couldn’t find an answer for Missouri’s balance quickly enough on Saturday. Jolene Nagel and the Duke coaching staff will have the benefit of a week’s preparation before first serve next Friday.


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