By Joyce Peng, KBIA Sports
After beating Mississippi State Friday at the Hearnes Center, Missouri looked as if it could defend their SEC Championship going onward into conference play.
The team capped off a 3-0 win (25-14, 25-23, 25-15) in its SEC opener and is now 10-5 overall. The Tigers showed improvement in areas that they struggled in past games, such as unforced errors, serving, passing and mental mistakes.
Overall the team had 10 attack errors, a low amount compared to past games. The serving and passing game was much
better, shown in the first and third sets, Coach Wayne Kreklow said. Having zero receiving errors is evidence of an improved serving and passing game. Sophomore outside hitter Carly Kan said the team came into the game mentally focused.
In the first set, the Tigers dominated offensively. They led most of the first set by seven or eight points and hit .414. Mississippi State launched a small 5-2 run in the middle of the set, but a kill by senior outside hitter Emily Wilson ended the run at 21-14.
The Tigers were not getting the kind of swings they wanted in the second set and did not pass as well, Kreklow said. Mississippi State went on a 5-0 run to tie 8-8, forcing Missouri to call a timeout. Kan and freshman outside hitter Sydney Deeken had two kills afterwards, but the Tigers were not able to carry out their offensive power like in the first set.
The teams traded leads onward, until kills by sophomore middle blocker Emily Thater, junior outside hitter Regan Peltier, senior middle blocker Whitney Little and Kan for the final four points closed the set in favor of Missouri.
Impressive volleyball by the Tigers played out in the third set. They limited the Mississippi State to a .059 hitting percentage, and themselves hit a game-high .459. Various players contributed to the offense such as Deeken, Thater, Kan and freshman outside hitter Kasey Reuter.
“They served tougher,” Coach Kreklow said about the Bulldogs’ second set performance. “I thought their outside hitters did a good job. We just couldn’t get a rhythm in terms of blocking, they were tooling us badly over there and we just couldn’t get the feel for blocking them.”
Despite the second set troubles, overall Wayne Kreklow saw improvement and progress. He said he noticed the two setters, freshman Ali Kreklow and sophomore Loxley Keala, playing more in-system.
“Not super fast but a just little bit more rhythm to what we were doing,” Wayne Kreklow said. “They both got our outside hitters some good one-on-one opportunities. I thought the middles were getting up earlier and trying to holding the other team’s middles a little bit more. But I felt like there’s slowly but surely more times where you kind of feel that kind of rhythm you want to play at.”
Not only was the team able to operate an offensive system more effectively, but it added another member to the hitting squad: Sydney Deeken. The game was first start in the freshman’s her career and she performed well. She hit .368 with 10 kills with three errors and had nine digs. Deeken had nice, strong kills, including a powerful one to the left back corner in the second set to grab back the Missouri lead to 19-18. She also had kills that started the second set and ended the game.
Wayne Kreklow said Deeken swings big and doesn’t make a lot of errors, but has not gained high-level skills yet in her development as a player. Deeken, though, has a natural feel to the game and gives them another offensive tool.
Kan also agreed that Deeken brings a lot of offense to the team and said Deeken maintains a steady presence on the court.
“I think that’s really, really impressive as a freshman, I mean I know from experience how hard it is to come on to the court,” Kan said. “You’re playing all around so you got to do everything and I think she did a really good job being compose and handling herself out there.”
Up to this point, the Tigers tended to go out of control when pressed in tight situations.
“So the challenge is to remember the game plan when you attack and come back to remember what we do, “ Wayne Kreklow said. “And I thought we did a better job of that tonight is not getting, when we go pushed we remembered what it is that we worked on and what we are supposed to do a little bit more.”
Kan had her nation-best twelfth double-double. She racked up 10 digs and a team-high of 14 kills, and hit .542 with one error. Little had eight kills with one error and hit .368, and Wilson hi .412 on eight kills and one error. Keala and Ali Kreklow both had more than 20 assists: Keala with 23 and Ali Kreklow with 20.
The Tigers will see if they can continue limiting errors, mental mistakes and carrying out an effective offensive system in their next SEC game. They will play Tennessee 11 a.m. Sunday at the Hearnes Center.