Wayne Kreklow wasn’t down nor was he upset after the Missouri volleyball team lost twice to open the Tiger Invitational that began Friday night at the Hearnes Center. Instead, the 16-year MU head coach appreciated the position his team was in.
“Tournaments like this are really valuable because you get pushed,” Kreklow said Saturday. “At the end of last year, the team wanted this. And I reminded them of that.”
Thanks to that reminding and a mindset that senior outside hitter Carly Kan termed “stress free,” the Missouri Tigers won consecutive sets 25-21 and 25-20 and beat the Rice Owls, 3-1.
Afterwards, Kreklow called the win “a big emotional boost.”
“It’s hard to go through and be so close so many times and be denied,” Kreklow said. “At some point, anybody is going to start feeling a little bit down. So, to be able to do this, and not in an easy fashion but to really have to work hard and earn it — this one is a good way to end the week.”
Coming off of last year’s second-round NCAA Tournament loss to Kansas, the Tigers returned all but one player in outside hitter Regan Peltier. With the addition of Mississippi junior transfer Melanie Crow, Missouri hoped to get off to a good start.
A week ago, Missouri traveled to Georgia and swept the Kennesaw State Invitational, beating Pittsburgh, Liberty and the hosts. After that tournament, Kan was chosen MVP, while Crow and sophomore Alyssa Munlyn were picked to the all-tournament team.
It was a start Kreklow welcomed, yet he knew the challenge ahead. Missouri opened against Utah on Friday, and although the Tigers won the first two sets, the Utes stormed back for a 3-2 victory.
In their second contest at home, Missouri again lost a five-setter, this time to Miami (Ohio). Kan attributed it to their last week of practice and said she didn’t think Missouri took it seriously enough.
So, against Rice, Kan and the entire Tigers team, including junior right-side hitter Kira Larson, were determined.
“We saw our weaknesses the first two games and we we were like, this third game, lets kick it into gear and let’s kick some butt out there,” Larson said.
Missouri won the first set handily in front of 2,243 fans Saturday night, yet they struggled to further bury Rice as the Owls rebounded and won the second set. Ultimately, though, thanks to 16 kills by Crow and 33 assists from junior setter Courtney Eckenrode, the Tigers won two straight sets and garnered the win, improving to 4-2 this season.
“I think just an intensity to finish it,” Kan said. “I don’t think we were all nervous at all, we were just laughing, having fun and we were in the moment and present and that’s something we’d lacked a lot.”
Heading into next week’s road trip to Idaho as Missouri will play Idaho State, nationally ranked BYU and Boise State, Kreklow said he knows his team needs to improve and that it’s not going to get easier. Even then, he maintained that he’s looking forward to the challenge.
“We would have scheduled a bunch of easy teams and started 13-0 or 14-0, felt really good and then gone out and played somebody good and gotten shelled,” Kreklow said, “but I’d rather have this stuff exposed now than in the middle of October or November.”
Alec Lewis: @alec_lewis