by Darren Hellwege
The Missouri Tiger volleyball team got their eagerly anticipated 2011 season started with a three-set sweep of Binghamton in the first game of the Tiger Invitational, winning 3-0 (25-15, 25-9, 25-17). The Tigers went on to beat Idaho State 3-0 (25-27, 25-16, 25-9) in the nightcap.
“This first (match) for us with all our young ones, we wanted to minimize unforced errors and try to execute well, and overall I thought we did a pretty good job of that,” said coach Wayne Kreklow, beginning his 12th season with the team. “Overall, I was pleased with what we did.”
The youth of Mizzou was on display from the beginning, with half the starting lineup—Sarah Meister, Whitney Little and Emily Wilson—were freshmen beginning their MU careers. All three contributed to the Tiger victory. Meister notched seven digs from the back row, Little showed her strength in the middle with six kills and five blocks and Wilson was very impressive from the outside hitter position. She tallied 10 kills and 18 attacks, both second on the team to Lisa Henning’s 12 kills and 21 attacks.
Kreklow said Little “…is a strong player, she’s got a good arm, she hits a heavy ball. She’s played a lot, so for a freshman she’s pretty savvy.”
While attention was focused on this highly touted class of freshmen, it was a pair of sophomores—Henning and setter Molly Kreklow—who really led the way. Henning showed immediate dominance, slamming three kills and a service ace in the Tigers’ first five points, drawing praise from the coach.
“She’s been working hard, she wants to become an all-around good player. She’s worked hard with the blocking, swinging out of the back row, she’s worked hard on those things. She’s shown she’s a versatile attacker.”
Molly Kreklow’s game continues to develop, making the entire Tiger attack work. She made honorable mention all-conference last year as a freshman in spite of nagging foot and hand injuries. Her uncle and coach Wayne Kreklow called her play, “Good, I mean real good.”
“Where you separate good setters and great ones is, there’s a lot of setters who can set perfect passes pretty well. Molly took some borderline passes and created great swing opportunities for some of our hitters.” Molly Kreklow is the defending MVP of the Tiger Invitational.
The Tigers took an early lead in the first set, fueled by Henning’s aggressive kills. Binghamton, located in New York state, traveled more than 1,000 miles to play in the tournament and showed a lot of determination in keeping things close through much of the first set. But the Tigers pulled away and Emily Wilson punched the last two kills as the Tigers won 25-15. The Tigers attacked on a .524, their best of the night.
The Binghamton attack is based somewhat on taking chances. It might prove effective against America East Conference opponents, but when it’s not working a stronger opponent can take advantage. That’s what happening in the second set. MU jumped out 7-1, led at one point 18-5, and finished it with a 25-9 score. The Tiger pressure may have rattled the Bearcats, who made 10 errors in the set and finished with a negative hitting percentage: -.160. The Tigers, by comparison hit .429 with just two errors and 21 attacks.
But Glenn Kiriyama’s Bearcats showed tenacity in the third set, keeping things tight, playing to a 14-14 tie, but again Mizzou’s talent proved too much. With an 11-3 charge MU won the final set 25-17. Like Mizzou, Binghamton has a young team, with six newcomers on a squad that finished 14-14 overall in 2010. Preseason polls pick the Bearcats to finish third in the America East behind Albany and Maryland-Baltimore County.
Asked about his goals for the weekend Wayne Kreklow said, “We just want to establish some team system things: How are we going to play? How are we going to compete? We’ve kind of developed an identity for this young group. Obviously, we’d like to win our own tournament, but there are some good teams here and we’re going to have to play well to do that.”
“To me, my sense is, at first it’s going to be a two steps forward one step back kind of thing. At times, we’re going to look really good and at times we’re going to look like freshmen. We’ll be pushed, and I hope we respond in a positive, focused, resilient way.”
The Invitational continues Saturday with the Tigers playing Tulane at 12:30 p.m. and North Dakota State at 7:00 p.m.