When sophomore Regan Peltier sold out her body to dive for a loose ball, tumbling into the chairs of an empty Missouri bench at Hearnes Center, it was only the warm-up.
Thirty minutes later, the No. 4 Tigers’ opening match Friday in the NCAA Tournament against the IUPUI Jaguars was underway and intensity lingered: on both sides of the net. The first set contained seven ties and three lead changes. So despite a three-set victory for the Tigers, MU coach Wayne Kreklow focused on his team’s slow start.
“It’s tough,” Kreklow said. “We’ve been off for 10 days. I felt like that kind of hurt us a little bit. We were a little bit out of rhythm. We just weren’t quite with it a lot of times tonight.”
Toward the end of that first set, Missouri led 23-22 with freshman Carly Kan serving. Just behind her, a fan furiously waved a large cardboard cutout with a photo of Kan’s face, attempting to intimidate the Jaguars. Kan handled the haunting all on her own — serving and killing the point. She would finish with 14 kills.
From Kan’s serve forward, Missouri never trailed.
Huge contributions from junior Whitney Little and senior Lisa Henning (each with four blocks along with six and 15 kills, respectively) boosted the Tigers, 35-0, to a 25-22, 25-15 and 25-18 victory.
“I think that we really just tried to kind of settle down, take a deep breath and then get back to what we know,” Henning said. “I think that we were a little bit rattled and kind of felt like the game was going a little too wild for us. So, we tried to take a deep breath and really play how Mizzou plays.”
Within the huddle, the team addressed their flaws amongst themselves. Specifically, Little said, “bettering our small balls, being ready for tips, covering and being more alert on certain plays.”
“We addressed it,” Little said. “We knew that we were playing kind of flustered and very uptight and not usually how we play. I think we really focused and came together and we addressed the situation and talked about what we need to do, what we need to pick up. I think that during the second game, we really started to pick up on those things.”
The Tigers have less than 24 hours until they play Purdue, 21-11, at 7:30 Saturday night. Purdue beat Central Arkansas 3-0 in its opening match in the Hearnes Center.
Coach Kreklow expects the No. 19 Boilermakers to come out swinging.
“They’re gonna come at us with the serve,” Kreklow said. “They’re gonna attack us on the right side. Their ride-side hitters are gonna get tons of swings. It’s kind of, we are who we are, and we’re really well aware of where our weak spots are and the fact that people are going to attack them. So, there’s not much we can do to change that other than we know it’s coming.”