By Eric Short
It was Missouri’s first game in the SEC. They were in front of a raucous home crowd. Their opponent was a ranked conference powerhouse.
Unlike the Tiger’s football team, the Missouri volleyball team was able to pull off the upset in their inaugural SEC game, shocking the reigning SEC champion Tennessee Lady Volunteers in a five set thriller at the Hearnes Center on Wednesday.
It wasn’t easy though, as the No.17 Lady Volunteers took the first two sets with ease, 25-20 and 25-14.
With a third set lead of 20-18, it looked like Tennessee was poised to close out the Tigers until Missouri tightened up its blocking behind the play of reigning SEC defensive player of the week, sophomore middle blocker Whitney Little.
“We knew that Tennessee was a big, physical hitting team and a big way to shut them down and help our passers was going to be blocking,” said Little, who led Missouri with 10 blocks. “In order to help everything come together we had to get the blocks.”
The blocking continued in the second half. Missouri recorded a season high 18 team blocks, as the Tigers kept up their stout defensive play in the last two sets, 25-21 15-9, en route to the victory.
Missouri coach Wayne Kreklow credited his team’s upbeat defensive intensity to the Tiger’s tight offensive play towards the end of the game.
“(The blocking) really helped clean up our ball handling. We are like any team in that when we can get together and run our sets we are a lot tougher to beat.” Kreklow said.
Another catalyst behind the Tiger’s comeback was sophomore libero Sarah Meister. She provided a energy boost for Missouri, diving every which way for errant balls and led the Tigers with 23 digs.
“This is a huge win for us,” Meister, who said she didn’t even know she was going to be starting until two minutes before game time, said. “This shows the rest of the league that we are a force to be reckoned with.”
Other top performers for the Tigers included a pair of juniors. Setter Molly Kreklow had 52 assists and outside hitter Lisa Henning had a game high 26 kills.
Missouri’s next game is a conference match on Sunday, September 16 at 1:30 p.m. against Ole Miss at the Hearnes Center.