University of Missouri

Change in system sparks Missouri volleyball team early in SEC play

The Missouri Tigers logo.
The Missouri Tigers logo.

The town of Newark, Del., is significant for its role in international figure skating, because it houses the training center of most Olympians. But don’t underestimate its significance in volleyball — for the Missouri volleyball team.

Three weeks ago, Newark was the destination for the Tigers after a visit the week prior to the Idaho State Invitational. Missouri was first matched up against Duquesne, a game that senior middle blocker Emily Thater termed Wednesday as “a light bulb” moment. Prior to that match, Missouri had lost three of its last six matches. Since then, Missouri has won 10 straight matches, including seven straight 3-0 sweeps after a victory over Arkansas on Sunday at the Hearnes Center.

What changed? Missouri’s system, one that coach Wayne Kreklow changed from a 6-2 to a 5-1 scheme, reverting back to 2013, the year Missouri won the SEC Championship.

“I think we’re just really excited because we haven’t run this type of offense in several years,” Thater said. “We ran the 5-1 (when I was a freshman) and we were successful. … Then, we kind of switched to a different kind of offense, which has its weaknesses and a lot of strengths, but ever since (we’ve changed back), it’s been going really well for us and we’re only getting better with it.”

A 6-2 system features two main setters on both the front and back rows, while a 5-1 system appoints a primary setter. Years ago, Molly Kreklow held that position. Now, junior setter Courtney Eckenrode “quarterbacks the offense,” as Thater put it.

Eckenrode, a junior from The Woodlands, Texas, has embraced the role.

“When Courtney comes in, it’s like everyone takes a deep breath and a weight comes off of our shoulders,” Thater said.

Combine Eckenrode’s success with the continued dominance of senior outside hitter Carly Kan, junior outside hitter Melanie Crow — a transfer from Ole Miss — and sophomore Alyssa Munlyn, and Missouri boasts a 6-0 conference record.

Thater, who was a freshman on the 2013 squad, said this year’s team resembles that one. Coach Kreklow said the differences come in this team’s balance.

“(The balance) is good because we aren’t limited to one or two people if they’re having a bad night,” Kreklow said. “It’s a challenge, actually, from a coaching standpoint. It’s more difficult to coach (the team) because you have to figure out how to distribute the ball and keep everybody happy.”

As long as Missouri keeps winning, the Tigers will be happy.

Kreklow just hopes the recent success doesn’t go to his team’s head, which is why he’s put the RPIs of opposing teams on the whiteboard. In the same breath, he doesn’t want his team to put too much emphasis on their 23rd-ranked RPI.

“I’m trying to be as negative as I can,” Kreklow said, jokingly. “ … Our major focus is to try to get these guys to focus on what’s next, and to not let the expectations make everybody overlook and stop preparing. … I think our kids are old enough. Carly’s been around enough, Mel’s been in the league, and I think they get it.”

Alec Lewis: @alec_lewis