COLUMBIA — Junior outside hitter Julianna Klein’s ritual before serving is a choreographed routine with two parts in the show.
It begins as a solo act. Klein bounces the ball twice, spins it quickly in her palm three times and tells herself to “max jump.”
When she’s ready to serve, members of the student cheering section VolleyZou enter the performance.
Each fan puts one hand high above his or her head, gripping an invisible shotgun. When Klein lofts the ball with backspin in the air, they load.
“Chi-ca,” yell the fans as they cock their weapons.
Finally, Klein makes contact with the ball after soaring through the air, and there is only one word to describe it.
“Boom,” the fans roar.
Klein had career high eight aces in the Tiger’s 25-15, 25-14, 25-27, 25-18 win over Colorado on Wednesday night. It was the most aces a Tigers server has had in a match since 1990.
“I think I got into a rhythm where I could control what I was doing with my serve,” Klein said. “I was mixing it up, short long, really long, a little bit softer. I think I kind of threw them for a loop. They weren’t quite expecting it.”
That was evident early, as Klein had five aces in the first game alone.
“A lot of times I don’t necessarily count I got so many aces,” Klein said. “It always feels good to get an ace here and there. When it’s five in the first game, that’s really rewarding.”
The first-game surge was one of the keys to the Tigers' victory, coach Wayne Kreklow said.
“That really set the tone for the whole match,” Kreklow said. “We’re coming back and running off those points, really when you’re playing at home and you’ve got a team that’s coming in that’s really struggling on the road, often a run like that can be really significant.”
Klein has several variations on her serve, but what was working Wednesday night was the topspin attack. When Klein smacks the ball she snaps her wrist over the top of it, which makes what looks like a straight a line drive suddenly drop to opponents’ feet.
“She puts a lot of heat behind it, kind of like her attacks,” junior libero Caitlyn Vann said. “It’s not one of those easy ground balls where you can easily move your feet and get right behind it. It’s a quicker and a harder ball to pass.”
Vann said her teammate’s jump serve is among the top three toughest she’s ever had to pass. Klein has been jump serving since her sophomore year of high school, but hadn’t mastered it until she came to Missouri and added strength.
“It’s never really been this consistent,” Klein said. “When I got here I obviously got stronger. It’s become a lot more powerful and a lot heavier.”
For Klein, the best part about serving is dealing with the pressure.
“I do like serving a lot,” she said. “Everything is on you. It’s you versus the other team. It’s pretty cool to get back there and see what you can do to take the other team out of their system, get an ace, take the middle, whatever it might be.”