SOMEWHERE IN THE SKIES BETWEEN COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS AND COLUMBIA, MO. — Heading to College Station on Wednesday, the Missouri volleyball team had played only one five-setter in its last 52 matches. That lone five-set match was a come-from-behind win against the Texas A&M Aggies last season.
Though Missouri never had to come from behind, the Tigers and Aggies played another thriller Wednesday night, with the Tigers rebounding from an atrocious fourth set to pick up a crucial road win.
After the jump is a series of observations made courtside at Reed Arena on Wednesday night.
– I’d be absolutely remiss if I didn’t credit Texas A&M. Aggie outside hitter Kelsey Black may be one of the most explosive weapons I’ve seen in the last few years outside of the power programs (namely Nebraska or Texas). Black hit only .241 on the match and had a 3:2 ace-to-error ratio, but the numbers are incredibly misleading. Black showed the ability to attack anywhere on the floor from anywhere on the floor, and her run of serves in the fourth set were the primary reason for the Aggies running Missouri off the floor in the set by a 25-11 score. In fact, the biggest point in the match may have come in the fifth set, whenever Missouri forced a sideout on a Black serve to minimize the damage she could do in the final set.
– The third set was somewhat of a statistical oddity. Missouri ran out to a big lead in the set and eventually closed it out, 25-23, following a Texas A&M run to cut the lead. In the set, the Aggies outhit Missouri, .368 to .250, and outblocked Missouri, 5-0. Missouri was bolstered by an incredible set from senior outside hitter Julianna Klein, who picked up six of her 11 kills on the night in that set. More importantly, Klein didn’t commit any attack errors on 15 swings in the set, and was the only Tiger able to effectively roll the ball over blocks into the middle of the court.
– It’s easy to take freshman setter Molly Kreklow for granted sometimes. Even when Kreklow struggles, she still can make the case for performing at a level befitting the top setter in the league. On Wednesday, the bad news for Texas A&M was that there were almost no struggles from Kreklow for the evening. The Big 12’s leader in assists per set finished the night with a double-double 55 assists and 16 digs. She distributed the ball well amongst her three primary targets — Brittney Brimmage, Paola Ampudia and Klein — and was effective at managing the tempo of the offense when her teammates provided her with good first touches. The sky remains the limit for the true freshman, and Wednesday was a good reminder of that very fact.
– Blocking remains a point of emphasis for the Tigers. Missouri has hovered around the Big 12 basement in blocks per set for most of the season, but in the first set, the Tigers proved they were capable of closing out on the block. Missouri outblocked Texas A&M, 5-3, in the first set, but was outblocked by the Aggies in the final four sets by a 13-3 margin. For Missouri coaches and fans, the Tigers’ ability to show up in the blocking stats are random times is as promising as it is frustrating.
– Missouri still has a large hill to climb for NCAA Tournament eligibility. To no one’s surprise, the Big 12 is once against tightly packed in the “second tier” of the standings. Six teams entered Wednesday within one game of .500 in Big 12 play, and a seventh — Missouri — pulled within one game with a win. The tight race in the Big 12 has placed prime importance on matches between two “bubble” teams in the middle tier, and Missouri helped its case tremendously with a win against Texas A&M. A loss would have dropped the Tigers to 3-6 in conference play, but with the win, Missouri can improve to 5-5 by beating Baylor at home on Saturday evening.