COLUMBIA — Wayne Kreklow felt his team could not afford to lose.
Coming into Wednesday’s match, the Missouri coach put a high importance on the Tigers beating Kansas, especially to make the NCAA tournament this season.
“It was a biggie,” Kreklow said. “I mean it was a biggie. KU is in the same position we are.”
Both teams entered the match with 2-5 Big 12 Conference records. Missouri won 25-20, 25-19, 21-25, 25-19 in front of 2,006 fans at Hearnes Center to improve its conference mark.
Kreklow said he tries to keep his team balanced, both focused on the next match and more broadly on the whole season.
“I’ve always kind of described what we go through every season as if you’re out there going for your run,” Kreklow said. “You always got to keep looking to make sure you’re on the right street and you’re going the right direction. You’ve got to look up occasionally, way down. But if you do that all the time, you’re going to trip on the curb.”
The Tigers have made it to the NCAA tournament the past eight seasons.
“It’s always something you’d like to keep going,” Kreklow said. “But I guess we’re getting old enough to know that if you’re around long enough, you see just about every record, at some point, fall. It’s going to happen, eventually. I hope it doesn’t happen, but at some point in time, more than likely it will.”
Last season, the Tigers made the NCAA tournament with a 10-10 Big 12 record. While that was good enough to make the tournament, they lost in the first round after drawing Washington, then ranked sixth nationally.
Making it back to the tournament isn’t a major topic of conversation for the team.
“We haven’t talked much about it,” junior Megan Wilson said. “I have no idea where we stand in that, what’s going to happen.”
Sophomore outside hitter Julianna Klein led Missouri with 19 kills Wednesday. Middle blockers Amanda Hantouli and Weiwen Wang both had more than 10 kills. Klein said the middle blockers helped her be productive.
“You’re the one that goes up and gets the huge swings,” Klein said. “But a lot of times what people don’t see is that your middle goes up pretty much like a fake, and they draw that middle blocker on the other side, leaving the outside as a solo.”
It’s the job of setter Lei Wang to deliver the ball to the various attackers and keep the opponent from focusing on a particular attacker.
“I think she did a great job spreading the offense out,” Wilson said. “You look at KU, they never knew where to set their block, just because one time, they’d be middle. One time, it’d be outside, the next time, it’d be right side. So they’re constantly guessing.”
Kreklow calls Klein his “go-to” attacker. While the team makes an effort to spread out the offense, Klein saw the brunt of the work in the decisive fourth set. She had seven kills on 20 total attacks in the fourth set.
“I’m just thinking, ‘expect every ball to come to me,’” Klein said. “Regardless of whether I’m serve-receiving or in the front row ready, I just expect the ball to come to me no matter what. Because I know I can put the ball away.”
The Tigers’ next match is at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Texas.