COLUMBIA — Senior Lei Wang-Francisco has been the Tigers’ starting setter for four years. She’s floated 4,520 volleyballs above the net before they were smashed to the court for a point.
But on Saturday night, Wang-Francisco spent the majority of the match on the sideline. Taking advantage of its break from conference games, Missouri was able to get freshman setter Kate Harris some much needed playing time against 1-23 Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.
“Sometimes you need the younger players to get some playing time,” Wang-Francisco said. “I’m leaving soon, she needs to get with the rest of the hitters and play together. This is a good opportunity for her to play.”
Harris entered the match midway into the second game and helped lead the Tigers to a 25-16, 25-21, 25-21 victory with 16 assists. It was her largest contribution since the Tigers defeated Fairfield on September 12.
“Before the match started we definitely knew that Kate was going to come in and do some setting,” coach Wayne Kreklow said. “She did a nice job. It’s just hard because there’s a different tempo and a different rhythm to the game. I think that right now Kate, as a freshman, she just needs to get in there and get some games under her belt and get some game-type experience.”
And while Harris said she was happy with the opportunity get more minutes in a game, she wasn’t pleased with her performance.
“I just didn’t feel like I was as sharp as I could have been,” Harris said. “Just my placement was off. My sets didn’t feel as smooth as they do normally.”
It wasn’t dominance that Kreklow was looking for from Harris. He simply wanted to make sure that one of the key pieces to the future of his program could scrape some of the rust off.
“It’s a tough spot to be in,” Kreklow said. “When you don’t get a lot off reps in game-like situations, you can do stuff in practice, but it’s still different. We just needed Kate to get out there. We didn’t really care about who she was setting. We just wanted to get the ball in her hands and set.”
Both of Harris’ best sets of the night came on game winners to the middle hitters. She set sophomore Brittney Brimmage to end the second game and senior Amanda Hantouli to end the third.
“She’s comfortable running the middle,” Kreklow said. “Every setter has their own kind of style. For us, it was just important for Kate to just do what you’re used to doing, to get out there and get comfortable.”
Harris said she can feel the difference between the high school and college levels and understands that developing comfort will take time.
“It’s a change. It’s a transition, but I’m learning a lot,” Harris said. “It’s just a faster pace with bigger players. It’s more fun.”
With conference play picking back up on Wednesday, Harris and Wang-Francisco will switch back into their typical roles. Despite the lack of opportunities for playing time ahead, Wang-Francisco said she isn’t worried about the success of her predecessor.
“I think the future is in good hands,” Wang-Francisco said. "She’s really quick. She’s smart. She has everything. It just depends on how she executes it.”