By Joyce Peng, KBIA Sports
During a pivotal second set against Illinois State, Missouri stayed consistent in long rallies, implementing solid defense and running all over the court — even near the stands — to save balls.
“Being relentless,” senior libero Sarah Meister said. “That was our goal. To be relentless competitors. That’s actually what we brought out there tonight. We showed maturity by sticking with it every single play and winning those rallies at the end.”
They launched a 12-0 run in the second set to earn a huge 19-8 cushion. After that set the Tigers played with more confidence, clinching the victory against the Illinois State Redbirds, 3-1 (22-25, 25-16, 25-21, 25-13). They are 1-1 in the Tiger Invitational so far and 3-2 overall in the season.
The Tigers struggled in the first set, committing nine attack errors and hitting .077. Coach Wayne Kreklow said the errors were probably from nerves and that Illinois State was serving tough, keeping them off balance a little bit.
They turned around in the second set, making only three attack errors with a .311 hitting percentage. The set included a 12-0 run, served almost entirely by freshman setter Ali Kreklow.
Wayne Kreklow said that during the 12-0 run the Redbirds were in a tough rotation, having two outside hitters in the same section of the floor. The Tigers were trying to serve into that group of people to make them uncomfortable to move.
“Ali did a nice job just consistently hitting the spot,” Wayne Kreklow said. “Sometimes it’s not about whether or not you ace somebody. It’s whether or not you can create chaos on the other side a little bit. I thought she was able to do that. One thing she did really well, whenever you are on a run, you never want to end your own runs with an error. She did a good job of staying aggressive without an error, for quite a while.”
Both teams were close in the third set, with the Tigers going on a couple of small runs — a 4-0 run early on and a 5-0 run in the middle of the set.
Missouri used another 7-0 run in the fourth set to gain a comfortable lead of 15-6. From there, the Tigers closed out the match.
Wayne Kreklow said that the team’s serving was tougher, making up for a lot of errors. He also said the team was sharper mentally, displayed by plays such as winning 50-50 balls at the net.
Sophomore outside hitter Carly Kan had a career-high of 25 kills with 19 digs, finishing the match with a .288 hitting percentage.
“They just told us in the beginning of the match to do whatever you need to do to get into your mental state,” Kan said. “So that’s what I was doing. I just really wanted to just do this for this team. We deserve to beat someone on our home court.”
Senior middle blocker Whitney Little also performed well, hitting .583 with 14 kills and five blocks. Sophomore setter Loxley Keala notched a team-high eight blocks and 24 assists, Meister had 26 digs, one short of tying her career-high. Ali Kreklow had 26 assists.
Moving forward, Wayne Kreklow said the team is close to being really good.
“Everybody that’s on the floor has to try to make everybody’s else’s job a little bit easier by trying to do what they do just a little bit better, “he said. “My first touch is a little bit better. It helps the setters so they can get a little bit better set. The hitters get a little bit better look and things start flowing a little bit.”
The Tigers will continue play in the Tiger Invitational at 2 p.m. Saturday against Oakland and 6:30 p.m. Saturday against Xavier.