COLUMBIA — Missouri figured Nebraska has more than enough good volleyball players to go around.
After Wayne and Susan Kreklow took over the Missouri volleyball program in 2000, it wasn't long before players from Nebraska started showing up on the roster. The Kreklows, who have each been the head coach for part of their time at Missouri, brought in their first player from Nebraska the next season and had at least five on the team each year from 2003-06.
"Often what happens is there's a fair number of very good players out there that they just can't take all of them," Wayne Kreklow said. "And so naturally, there becomes a good place to recruit."
This year's Tigers team, which plays No. 2 Nebraska at noon Sunday at Hearnes Center, has three Nebraskans on the roster. The group says doing their best against the Cornhuskers, who have six players from their home state, is important.
"Just kind of your thought process is go out there and give it all you've got," junior Megan Wilson, a native of Lincoln, Neb., said. "Kind of proving that, like, you're a great player, too, even though you're not playing on Nebraska's team."
Nebraska has won national championships in 1995, 2000 and 2006. All three teams were at least 50 percent Nebraskans. If it wins the national championship this season, Nebraska would break the tradition. The team has six Nebraskans and eight players from outside the state. Huskers coach John Cook said the high school volleyball scene in Nebraska is unlike any he's seen.
"You've got whole towns coming in and filling those arenas," Cook said. "It's a big deal. It's like Friday night lights in football in Texas."
Wayne Kreklow sees the high interest level as a key to generating better recruits.
"What we're always battling in the sport of volleyball is getting the good athletes," Wayne Kreklow said. "And in a state like Nebraska, high school volleyball is a huge deal. So, in these high schools, whether they're large, urban high schools or smaller, rural high schools, volleyball is a big sport. So, you attract a lot of the good athletes."
Kreklow said a lot of those players eventually become qualified high school coaches in Nebraska, thus furthering the talent.
"I think that's why for example, in the state of Missouri you see pockets," he said. "There are geographic areas in the state of Missouri that are consistently good all the time for the same reason. ... The coaches that are in those schools, they're experienced. They're either experienced coaches, they're knowledgeable, they're passionate about what they do."
Missouri sophomore middle blocker Catie Wilson, a native of Omaha, Neb., said the high interest in her state is partly because of the success of the Huskers.
"That brings all the interest to girls that want to play," Catie Wilson said. "They look up to those players and I definitely would say volleyball is a huge deal. We had like tons of people that would come to our volleyball games, our gym was always packed."
Kreklow sees a difference between many volleyball players from Nebraska and other recruits. He said more densely-populated states produce a lot of players that have specialized in volleyball. But Nebraska often produces multi-sport athletes.
"There's a lot to be said for playing multiple sports in high school in particular," Kreklow said. "I'm a big believer in the idea and the notion that there's a lot of carry-over from sport to sport. And I think, for example, a lot of what you do on the volleyball court, I think helps in basketball and vice-versa."
Missouri junior middle blocker Amanda Hantouli is also from Omaha, Nebraska's largest city. Even though she played club volleyball, she also played high school basketball.
"It was kind of like some extra conditioning," Hantouli said. "....Then, all-around keeping your mind sharp. Because I think no matter what sport you're playing, if you're playing it at a competitive level then you need to be mentally "on" a lot and so I think that helps a lot too."
For Hantouli, the match against Nebraska is special in part because she knows some of the Nebraska players from her days in Omaha.
"When it's in Columbia, it's a ton of fun," she said. "....I get a really big adrenaline rush because I'm playing actually a lot of the girls that I used to play club with."