Sophomore outside hitter Carly Kan high fives her teammates during her introduction in Missouri’s matchup against Oakland on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014.
By Joyce Peng, KBIA Sports
The Missouri volleyball team’s recent improvements in Southeastern Conference play finally produced a win.
The Tigers defeated Auburn 3-0(25-23, 25-20, 25-14) at the Hearnes Center Friday night, giving coach Wayne Kreklow his 200th career victory as Missouri’s head coach. Missouri is now 12-7 overall and 3-2 in the SEC.
Both teams battled for the lead in the first set, exchanging leads four times. The Tigers broke through late in the set with a 3-0 run, using kills by Carly Kan, Regan Peltier and Emily Thater to grab a 20-18 lead. Auburn came back to tie the game 23-23, but the Tigers eventually closed out the set with a Kan kill and an Auburn attack error.
A different story played out in the second and third sets. Missouri and Auburn were again neck-and-neck in the beginning of the second, but Missouri pulled away on a 7-2 run to obtain a small cushion with a 15-10 lead. The Tigers made just six errors in the second set, compared to 10 in the first.
In the third set, the Tigers played exceptionally well, winning its first four points and leading 21-10 at one point. They hit a match-high of .433 with 15 kills and only five total errors. Missouri had five team blocks in the final set and limited Auburn to a .069 hitting percentage.
Consistent serving and passing, areas that middle blocker Whitney Little noticed her team improving in against Georgia last weekend, helped carry the Tigers to a win, Kreklow said. The team had five service aces and only six serving errors.
Kreklow said their serving did a good job of not ending their own runs with missed serves.
The coach also said Auburn struggled with passing.
“We served well enough to keep them from really getting an offense going,” Kreklow said.
Blocking was another consistent factor that lifted the Tigers. The team posted 11 blocks, and Little, with her six block assists, set the school’s career block assists at 378. Kreklow said blocks don’t win games but assist greatly with the team’s defense.
“Any hitter has a hard time, you get blocked once or twice and you start playing safe,” Kreklow said. “[Kristel Moor] for them really struggled, we blocked her a couple of times. She…hit out of system balls and made a lot of errors. A lot of that has to do with the way we blocked.”
Moor, a right side hitter for Auburn, hit -.053 and had six attack errors.
Little also ignited hitting in the second and third sets. She improved from zero kills and a -.500 hitting percentage in the first to four kills and a .500 hitting percentage in the second and six kills with no errors in the third.
“I think definitely just trying to make myself available at the net,” Little said of her late-match surge. “Getting off quicker and just being able to give [Ali Kreklow] and [Loxley Keala] kind of a target to go to instead of just thinking ‘if the ball goes I’ll go hit it.’”
Other top hitters were Kan, Peltier and Sydney Deeken. Kan had 11 kills on a .435 hitting, a huge improvement from the last two SEC games, in which she hit .056 and .032 against Ole Miss and Georgia, respectively. Kan said the high-level play of her teammates affected her own game positively.
Peltier hit .188 with five kills and three block assists. Deeken racked five kills on a .364 hitting, and also had three block assists.
The Tigers will see if they can build upon this victory when they face non-conference opponent UMKC 7 p.m. Monday in Kansas City, Missouri.