SOMEWHERE IN THE SKIES BETWEEN BOULDER, Colo. AND COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Mizzou volleyball team improved to two matches above .500 with a 3-1 road win against the Colorado Buffaloes on Wednesday.
The Tigers stormed out to a 1-0 lead thanks in large part to one of their most efficient offensive sets of the Big 12 season. Freshman setter Molly Kreklow had 18 assists on Missouri’s 21 kills in the set, far exceeding her season average of 11.65 assists per set, already the highest in the conference.
But after Missouri hit .333 in the first set, Colorado’s quick-tempo counter attack kept both the Tiger offense and defense off-balance in the second set. Missouri keyed on sophomore Kerra Schroeder, Colorado’s primary offensive weapon, but the extra defensive attention allowed junior Richi Bigelow to have the best offensive night of her career. Thanks in large part to a strong second set, Bigelow had 13 kills and only three errors on 20 swings for a hitting percentage of .500, a career-high. Bigelow had hit for a negative percentage in six matches this season and hadn’t hit above .250 the entire season until Wednesday night.
Missouri was able to respond to a 25-15 second set loss with consecutive 25-19 totals in the third and fourth sets to seal the match. Below are a couple of notes and observations gleaned from the Coors Event Center on Wednesday night:
— Save for a frustrating second set, Missouri looked generally lethal for most of the evening. Granted, Colorado entered the match as the worst blocking team in the Big 12, but either way, Missouri continues to display its full array of talent in spurts this season. The Tigers have lacked the point-to-point, match-to-match consistency needed to garner conference or national attention, but at any given time, Missouri can seize control of nearly any match.
– Molly Kreklow was fantastic Wednesday night, thanks in part to good first touches from the Missouri back row. Kreklow is at her most efficient when operating a few feet from the net, but earlier in the season, she would often have to scramble back toward the 10-foot line for sets. When she had time to set up near the net and survey her options on Wednesday, her decision making was almost impeccable, and she even showed some newfound aggressiveness when dumping for kills. In addition, her blocking continues to improve exponentially. After beginning the season unable to block with both hands because of a dislocated pinky finger, Kreklow is now at full speed on the block and came up with several block kills while stranded in isolation by her middle blockers on the outside.
– Kreklow isn’t alone in blocking growth. Middle blocker Brittany Brimmage has been one of the Big 12′s most efficient offensive weapons all season long, but her defense is starting to round into form as well. Early in the season, Brimmage relied on her athleticism to frequently bail her out of bad positions. Now, she finds herself in the right spots more frequently, and her vertical leap and wide wingspan allowed her to position perfectly and still adjust in midair to take away attacking lanes on Wednesday night. She finished the match with seven total blocks.
– Paola Ampudia has quietly rounded into the most complete player on Missouri’s roster. A year ago, she was an offensive workhorse. This season, she’s still getting her swings, but her ability to dig and pass the ball from the back row has been arguably more impressive than her attacking ability.
– Missouri travels to Ames on Saturday, where the Iowa State Cyclones will be playing in their first match back at Hilton Coliseum this season as a result of the flooding that pushed most of their matches to Ames High School. Missouri currently sits in the low-40s in the RPI rankings, and while the Tigers still need to take care of business at home against Texas A&M and Texas Tech the following week, a win against a ranked Iowa State team in Ames would send a strong message to the NCAA Tournament selection committee. Now at 8-6 in the Big 12, the Tigers hold their NCAA Tournament destiny in their own hands.