Missouri volleyball wasn’t flawless, but coach Wayne Kreklow’s team was pretty close on Friday during second-round NCAA Tournament action at the Hearnes Center.
The No. 15 seed Tigers hit .346 and committed only 14 hitting errors during a four-set victory against Purdue, advancing to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2010 and only the third time in program history.
“I really felt like for us to have a shot, we were going to have to play really clean,” Kreklow said. “... Our hitters made really good decisions.”
That was especially true for junior outside hitter Melanie Crow.
She led the way for Mizzou, 27-5, as she did during a first-round win against Northern Illinois, recording a season- and career-high 25 kills with only five errors on 47 total attacks.
“(Junior setter) Courtney (Eckenrode) did an amazing job,” said Crow, whose .426 hitting percentage topped all MU players with more than two kills.
“Honestly, kudos to her and the middles for getting me those opportunities. I try to put the ball away when I can, but really all the credit should be going to them. … A couple times I only had a single block, which is almost like an open net. That was fun.”
Crow and senior Carly Kan, who chipped in nine kills, were especially dynamic hitting from the back row for the Tigers, who also got nine kills from junior Kira Larson.
Mizzou also got seven kills apiece from senior Emily Thater and sophomore Alyssa Munlyn, while senior Alexa Ethridge, a Nebraska transfer from Lee’s Summit North, paced a stout defensive effort with a team-high 17 digs.
Kan added 13 digs and Crow had nine, while Munlyn added five blocks and three other Tigers — Crow, Larson and Thater — had three blocks in the victory.
“I knew this was going to be a really difficult match for us, and I was very concerned before the match just about the size issue,” Kreklow said. “Obvious, they’ve got some real big, physical kids.”
Ultimately, the Tigers’ athleticism prevailed.
Mizzou finished with 11 blocks compared to only four for Purdue despite Purdue’s size advantage.
Next week, the Tigers will face the winner between No. 2 seed Minnesota and Hawaii, who meet in a second-round match Saturday evening in Minneapolis.
“I cannot believe I’m going to the Sweet 16,” Crow, a transfer from Mississippi, said after the match. “... I never expect this, and I don’t think coach will ever truly understand that he changed my life. So, thank you for that.”
Mizzou mowed through Purdue, 19-14, in the opening set 25-13 by hitting an almost-impossible .591, amassing 13 kills with zero errors on 22 attacks.
Meanwhile, the Boilermakers only hit .083, totaling nine kills with seven errors.
“Our first set was really clean,” Crow said. “We really limited our errors and were disciplined at the net. I think we have a stellar back row, and our serve-receive was really spot on, which gave us opportunities to put the ball away.”
A more settled and assertive Purdue won the second set 25-22, pounding out 19 kills against five errors, but the third set mirrored Mizzou’s early dominance.
“Since we came out so strong in the first set, we kind of backed off in the second set,” Larson said.
That led to more hitting errors, but Kreklow’s squad got back on track in the locker room.
The Tigers hit .480 with 14 kills and only two errors on 25 attacks in the third set, while the Boilermakers had 12 kills and 10 hitting errors, a meager .056 hitting percentage.
Crow pounded out nine kills in the fourth set, helping Mizzou outlast Purdue 25-21 to close out the match.
“Whatever you want to call it — flow, rhythm, whatever — when somebody gets into that, it’s kind of a pretty thing to watch,” Kreklow said.
Certainly, it was for the 2,704 on hand to watch the Tigers avenge a second-round NCAA tourney loss against the Boilermakers from 2013.