COLUMBIA — It may have taken 27 games to get there, but on Wednesday night the Missouri women’s volleyball team finally clicked.
Sure, the Tigers have won other big games. There have been stunning comebacks and absolute routs, but there hadn’t been a win like this. Missouri made quick work of Oklahoma with a 3-0 sweep in a virtual must-win game to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
There wasn’t a key moment or signature play, and that’s exactly what made the win so special. For the first time, the Tigers played fluidly against a tough competitor. There were big leads and comebacks, back-and-forth action and domination. But no matter what the situation, Missouri stayed in control.
“There was no one star,” junior libero Caitlyn Vann said. “Everybody just played well. That was enough for us to handle them. We don’t need one person playing awesome or two or three people playing awesome if everybody just plays well consistently. When everybody’s playing well, we’re an unstoppable team I think.”
Junior outside hitter Paola Ampudia led Missouri with 21 kills, but her name wasn’t even mentioned in the postgame press conference with Missouri coach Wayne Kreklow. The focus, instead, was on the points that are normally overlooked.
“We made more heads up plays on small balls tonight than we’ve maybe had the last two weeks,” Kreklow said. “But that’s the difference a lot of times when you’re playing good teams.”
The Tigers outscrapped an Oklahoma team known for its ability to slow the game down and win the messy rallies. Missouri consistently won points despite making mistakes. Things just naturally seemed to be going the Tigers’ way, but Kreklow and several of his players said that happened for a reason.
“Everybody knew the reality of the situation, if we didn’t get this one our chances of making the tournament would definitely have gone down,” Vann said. “The coaches knew, we knew, everybody was really prepared to make sure we got it.”
And while Kreklow shared his pleasure with his team’s performance, he managed to put the victory into a typical coach’s perspective.
“I don’t know about over the hump, but at least we climbed to the top of the hump tonight I felt,” Kreklow said. “I hope everybody out there felt what it’s like to play like we can play. We’ve got to do some things to allow us to play like that again.”
What helped Missouri reach its peak was remembering some of the not-so great points of the season.
“We lost to Oklahoma earlier in the season when we shouldn’t have, so that put a chip on our shoulder,” Vann said. “We lost to Baylor earlier on. All these teams that we thought we could have played better against and beaten, we now are having a chance to come back and see what we could do against them.”
The motivation going into the final stretch of the season was built in for the Tigers. It didn’t take an emotional pregame speech or locker room explosion to get the team ready to play.
“We didn’t really need any of that,” Vann said. “It was just understood. Everybody was on the same page. Everybody knew what needed to be done. I think from this point on everybody is well aware of what important games we have ahead of us. Getting pumped up for this game is easy.”