Mizzou volleyball improving despite two SEC losses

Outside hitter Emily Wilson kills a ball with a block.

Outside hitter Emily Wilson kills a ball with a block.

By Joyce Peng, KBIA Sports

The Missouri volleyball team has been improving, despite dropping two Southeastern Conference games on the road this past week.

The Tigers lost to Ole Miss
0-3(18-25,23-25,22-25) on Wednesday and fell to Georgia 1-3 (25-17,18-25, 17-25, 20-25) on Sunday. They are now 11-7 overall and 2-2 in the SEC.

Middle blocker Whitney Little said Missouri never gave up and performed well from a serving and passing standpoint in the Georgia match.

After the loss, coach Wayne Kreklow gave a talk to the players, telling them that he was encouraged by their improvements, according to outside hitter Emily Wilson.

Wilson said the coach has noticed the team improving upon the little things, such as second ball touches and making smart plays.

“So I think that’s really encouraging for us and to know that he’s seeing improvements even when we might not be,” Wilson said of Kreklow’s group talk.

Just like the team, Wilson herself has been performing well lately. She has posted a .320 hitting percentage, with 3.56 kills per set and 3.75 points per set in her last 10 matches. This is a huge improvement from the first eight matches, in which she hit .216, with 2.25 kills per set and 2.41 points per set. Against Ole Miss, Wilson had 13 kills on a .200 hitting percentage and she garnered a season-high hitting percentage of .524 against Georgia with 12 kills.

Wilson said Kreklow has been writing down the facets of the game that the players need to focus on paper and giving it to the players. Wilson has been working on those items and looking at them before play.

“Things such as off-blockers and small-ball, so like playing defense up at the net,” Wilson said of her focus items. “Keeping the ball in front of me when I’m hitting instead of reaching behind me. Pressing over when I’m blocking.”

Wilson said taking on a new leadership role has also elevated her game, giving her a different mindset and knowing her teammates are looking up to her because of her seniority.

While Kreklow has seen an upswing in Missouri’s overall performance, the team still lacks the confidence to launch a winning streak. Wilson said the team played strong in the first game of the Georgia match, but lost its confidence after a slow start in the second game. This pattern of its disappearing confidence has been a recurring theme of every loss.

Another pattern for Missouri is the team falling apart in the second game of matches, which Wilson said Sarah Meister spoke about.

“She said before the match even starts no one’s made a mistake (and) no one’s messed up,” Wilson said. “So we have complete confidence in ourselves. We start out really strong and then maybe we make a few errors, like the other team gets a run on three and we just kind of lose our confidence.”

The Tigers will see if they can sustain their confidence throughout a whole match this Friday against Auburn. Wilson said the SEC teams, with the exception of Florida and Kentucky, perform at a similar level. Many of them struggle on the road and play well at home.

Auburn poses a threat in terms of serving. Its outside hitter, Courtney Crable, ranks third in the SEC in service aces, averaging 0.36 per set. Crable’s serving against the Tigers’ passing duo of Meister and Carly Kan will be a key to the match. In the past four matches, SEC opponents have only aced Misouri five times out of 243 chances.

Kreklow said Auburn, which holds a 9-8 overall record, is a solid team that has physical attackers. Some of those attackers are Crable, who hits .121 with a team-high of 177 kills, and middle blocker Stephanie Campbell, who has a .245 hitting percentage with 154 kills. Defensively, Auburn has limited their opponents to a .171 hitting percentage.

The Tigers play Auburn at 6:30 p.m. Friday in the Hearnes Center.

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