Four years ago, Missouri senior Carly Kan wasn’t entirely certain where the state was located.
As Kan, a talented outside hitter at Punahou High in Honolulu, embarked on a mainland recruiting trip, the Tigers were eager to set up a visit.
“I remember that I was like, ‘Missouri, where is that?’ ” Kan said with a laugh. “But I decided to visit and it turned out to be one of my favorite places.”
Asked if he can put Kan’s career into words now that any match could be her last, Tigers coach Wayne Kreklow paused: “I wouldn’t even know where to begin,” he said.
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Let’s start here: Kan ranks third on Mizzou’s all-time list with 1,638 kills, behind only Lisa Henning (1,794) and Shen Danru (1,658), and fourth with 1,408 digs.
Kan, a dynamo at only 5-feet-9, is one of four Tigers to rank in the top 10 in both categories and owns the most combined kills and digs in program history.
She also ranks in the top 10 in points, attacks, points per set and digs per set, helping lead the Tigers to three NCAA Tournament appearances and the only two SEC team titles in Mizzou history for any sport.
“It’s just amazing all that she’s been able to accomplish,” Kreklow said. “If there was ever an example of the concept of ‘The Little Engine That Could,’ it’s Carly Kan.”
Missouri, 25-5, shared the SEC title this season with Florida, earning the conference’s automatic NCAA berth and a No. 15 national seed.
The Tigers play host to Northern Illinois, 25-5, at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Hearnes Center. The winner plays the winner between Purdue, 18-13, and Iowa State, 18-10, at 6:30 p.m. Friday in Columbia.
Kreklow said upset-minded Northern Illinois — which leads the all-time series 3-0, though the teams haven’t played since 1988 and have never met in Columbia — makes him nervous.
“But I always am, so that’s nothing new for me,” Kreklow said.
After an undefeated regular season in 2013, Mizzou was upset by Purdue — a tantalizing potential rematch — in the second round of the national tourney.
The Tigers limped through Kan’s sophomore season, going 16-17, but authored a remarkable turnaround last season, returning to the tournament during a 27-6 campaign.
Backing it up with an even better season as she wraps up her time in black and gold has been a thrill for Kan.
“I’m proud of how my group battled back after my sophomore year, which was a low time,” Kan said. “ … We’ve pushed ourselves in practice to get back to the top. That’s something I’m most proud of.”
She also deserves some credit for willing the Tigers back to top.
“She’s grown so much as a leader,” senior and Blue Springs South graduate Julia Towler said. “Freshman year, she was obviously incredible, but she’s become so sound in her technique and as a leader. Everything she does, she wants it for the best of the team. … You never see her being lazy or walking, anything like that. She’s always giving 110 percent and really motivates us to do the same.”
Kan’s career at Mizzou will end one way or another in the coming weeks, but her impact will be felt for many years to come.
“She brings it every day, and the passion she brings to the game has just been a joy to be around,” Kreklow said. “ … You just never replace players like that. You don’t. They’re one in a million. We’re just lucky to have had her for four years.”