COLUMBIA — Monday was the first day of practice for the Missouri volleyball team. Their first match isn’t until Aug. 27. Senior Julianna Klein is entering her fifth year with the program and is a lock to start at outside hitter. But as she dove for balls and rolled on the floor on Monday, it was hard to tell she wasn’t fighting for playing time.
Klein is Missouri’s active leader in kills, points, attacks, service aces and sets played. After a knee injury in 2007 ended her second season at MU after seven matches, Klein received a medical hardship waiver, nullifying her stats from that season and giving her another year of eligibility.
Klein was the top attacker for MU in 2009 before missing three matches in October with mononucleosis. Although she played well upon her return, she was never really at full strength.
“I think it (mononucleosis) affected me all the way through the season,” Klein said. “I think that I overcame it finally in the spring. That’s when I was back to full strength and ready to go.”
Klein’s biggest focus in the offseason was getting herself into the best shape of her career, and she feels she has succeeded in doing just that. She is thrilled about how she feels physically entering her senior season.
“I’m so excited,” she said. “Finally, my knee is good. I’m over the mono. I’m in great shape.”
Klein spent 10 days in June playing volleyball in Brazil for the USA developmental team. She played with 11 of the nation’s top NCAA volleyball players against international teams from around the world.
“One of the biggest things I learned (while playing in Brazil) was being able to adapt to new players and their styles of play,” Klein said. “Being able to adapt quickly will translate into this season, I think.”
Although the Tigers return nine letter winners and five starters from last year’s team, Klein will have to adapt to the play of freshman Molly Kreklow, who is likely to take over as the starting setter.
Klein also feels that it’s her responsibility to be a leader of the team and set a good example for the young players.
“This is my fifth year,” she said. “Along the way, I’ve learned so many things that I can bring to the table for my teammates, especially the younger girls that aren’t quite sure what to do or don’t quite understand what’s going on.”
Head coach Wayne Kreklow said the team is counting on Klein’s leadership and experience.
“Jules has been a mainstay for the team and the program for the last four years,” he said. “She’s somebody who needs to step up for us. She’s been there. She knows what’s going on. She knows what to expect. She needs to be a leader for us.”
Among the returning starters for MU is senior Paola Ampudia, who led the team with 410 kills last season on her way to first team All-Big 12 honors. Klein and Ampudia will work together as one of best one-two offensive punches in the Big 12 this year.
“It’s (playing with Ampudia) definitely a lot of fun,” Klein said. “I can always count on her to be there. She can always count on me to be there. We make a great team.”
After winning 18 matches last year, the most for the Tigers since 2005, the team has high expectations for 2010. For Klein and the other four seniors, they realize this is their last chance.
“Coming so close to making the tournament last year but coming up short left a bitter taste in their mouth as a group of seniors,” Wayne Kreklow said. “I’m pleased with their focus in the offseason and I think they’re ready to go. They want to go out on a good note.”
Although this is Klein’s last season at MU, she hopes it isn’t her last year of playing volleyball competitively.
“After my experience in Brazil, it made me want to keep playing and try to play professionally,” Klein said. “There’s so many opportunities out there, so as long as I’m good at something and I love it, why not do it?”