By Joyce Peng, KBIA Sports
For the Southeastern Conference volleyball champions, this season is all about experimenting and taking on new challenges.
The Missouri volleyball team, which shocked many last year with its 35-1 record, still needs to establish an identity going into this season, coach Wayne Kreklow said at Wednesday’s media day session.
The Tigers lost two major pieces to the rotation — outside hitter Lisa Henning and setter Molly Kreklow. Henning, who racked up 499 kills on a .330 hitting percentage and placed second in the SEC for average number of kills, spurred the offense last year. The quarterback of the team, Molly Kreklow mobilized the scoring and led the SEC in assists.
This year’s team is young — 10 of its 15 players are freshmen or sophomores — and will have to face many challenges. Wayne Kreklow said the six sophomores have experienced only losing one match last year.
“They have a very unrealistic perspective on the reality of what most teams deal with,” Wayne Kreklow said.
Setter Loxley Keala said that the team is mindful of the lack of experiencing losses, and said it will be one of the biggest challenges this year.
“Winning is great, but very few know how to lose and how to come back from it and how to prepare for the worst,” Keala said. “We don’t know what it is to take a match to five sets.”
With the departure of Henning and Molly Kreklow, crucial starting positions have opened. Players have been competing for these open roles, and Wayne Kreklow said the competition helps bring the best out of everybody. But he said the challenge as coaches is keeping that competition helpful and positive.
A couple of other players will need to step up. Sophomore outside hitter Carly Kan, who had a successful freshman year, will be the go-to hitter for the squad, Keala said.
The Tigers are scheduled to open their season this weekend at the North Texas Invitational tournament. They will face three teams: Mississippi Valley State on Friday then Northwestern State and North Texas on Saturday. Wayne Kreklow said that North Texas and Northwestern State are two dangerous schools that have beat solid teams.
Missouri’s home opener will be the five-team Tiger Invitational scheduled for Sept. 5-6 at the Hearnes Center.