COLUMBIA — While the rest of the team wears white jerseys, she wears black. She doesn’t play in the front row, she only plays defense.
On the court, senior libero Caitlyn Vann stands out not only because of her uniform but also because of her incredible consistency, both in her play and her leadership.
Selection Sunday for the NCAA championship volleyball tournament will take place on Sunday.
With a record of 20-10 (12-8 Big 12), Missouri expects a place in the tournament this year after not appearing in the tournament for the past two seasons.
Before each play, she wipes the bottoms of her white Nike volleyball shoes with the palms of her hands. Then she leans forward and claps, urging her team to stay focused.
“One pass, here we go,” Vann says to her teammates, eyebrows raised in seriousness. It’s as if this one point is the only thing in the world that matters to her.
For Vann and the Tigers, however, the points didn’t add up to a victory Wednesday night at Hearnes Center. Missouri lost 24-26, 17-25, 25-18, 25-23, 15-11 to Oklahoma in its regular season finale.
The team struggled in the front row with hitting, either swinging too hard and forcing the ball out of bounds or tipping the ball over the net too lightly creating an easy ball for Oklahoma, but Vann chalked up a career-high 38 digs in the back row.
“I thought she did a phenomenal job,” Missouri coach Wayne Kreklow said. “She had a great match. She kept us in a lot of those (sets).”
The cheers from the crowd of 2,627 were almost always for powerful kills, but those kills were only possible because of Vann’s passes. Again and again, she flung her body forward onto the floor, digging the ball just before it hit the ground. Again and again, when Missouri’s hitters would hit into the Oklahoma block, Vann was there to pass the ball after it rebounded off of their hands.
“When the balls are being hit hard, a lot of times you think, ‘Oh, no. That was a good hit,’” freshman setter Molly Kreklow said, “and then Vann goes diving in to save it.”
When Molly Kreklow was forced to pass the ball on the first hit instead of the second hit that she takes as a setter, Vann was there to set the ball to a hitter.
As a libero, Vann is allowed an unlimited number of substitutions in the back row, and she is on the court for nearly every play. When she’s not on the court, however, she’s still in the game. During the fourth set, when Missouri trailed 11-8, Vann stood at the end of the bench, leaning forward with her hands on her knees, shouting at her teammates, “Let’s go, we’re still in it!”
“Anytime I have a performance like that, it’s the whole team,” Vann said. “I don’t get those digs unless someone else is ready to play my balls.”
After each timeout and during each lull in the game, Vann walked up to the players in the front row, clapping hands with her teammates and encouraging them to stay focused and motivated.
“Vann has made a very strong case for herself as being the best performing libero in the conference this year,” Wayne Kreklow said. “Right now, the way she’s been playing this season, I’d take her over anybody.”
After the game, which was senior night for the Tigers, Vann considered her favorite memories of playing with the team. For her, it wasn’t the record that mattered, but the relationships she formed and the memories of fun times she had with her teammates on the road when they traveled to away games.
“It’s like a family, so those friendships will last a lifetime,” Vann said. “I think that’s the most important part.”