COLUMBIA — Before warmups at the start of every match she has played in the four years she has been a Missouri volleyball player, senior libero Caitlyn Vann gives two pieces of gum to assistant coach Deng Yang.
Most of the time it’s Extra gum, but sometimes she will have one piece of Trident and one piece of Extra. Once warmups finish, Yang gives Vann one of the pieces back, and the two unwrap the pieces of gum and begin chewing.
Mizzou (20-10, 12-8 Big 12)
at No. 5 seed Northern Iowa Panthers (30-2, 18-0 MVC)
WHEN: 8 p.m.
WHERE: McLeod Center, Cedar Falls, Iowa
ONLINE: The match will be broadcast on Mizzou All-Access, which can be accessed online at mutigers.tv.
Missouri is 6-8 in NCAA tournament competition and 4-4 in the opening round. The Tigers' best run in the tournament was in 2005 when they advanced to the regional finals where the lost to Tennessee.
“At Texas, she lost the two pieces of gum I gave her for the first time in four years,” Vann said, chuckling. “And we got smashed by Texas. So, I think it was probably her fault.”
Vann also touches the corners of the volleyball court with her white Nike shoes and steps exactly on the out-of-bounds line on the court when running to high-five the opposing team before the match.
For Vann and her teammates and coaches, superstitions are a fun way to keep up with the traditions they have been creating all season — a season that has the Tigers playing in the NCAA tournament for the first time in the past two years.
Senior outside hitter Julianna Klein waited until after Missouri’s game against Oklahoma, the last regular season match, to cut her long, black hair.
“I just wanted to make sure that those three or four inches that I cut off weren’t the game-changers.” Klein said. “Just in case, you never know. It could have been that little bit of hair, even though it’s probably all mental.”
Klein explained how she and senior middle blocker Catie Wilson will wear the same hairstyle for every match. Klein wears a simple braided ponytail, and Wilson wears a small braid that frames her forehead. Wilson also paints her nails black before every match.
“We don’t want to switch it up because you never know, that could be the one thing.” Klein said. “If the worst was to happen and we lose, we’d be like, ‘It was because you didn’t wear your hair like that or you didn’t paint your fingernails.’”
Missouri coach Wayne Kreklow and director of volleyball Susan Kreklow have superstitions of their own. Wayne Kreklow always has Tic Tacs with him during volleyball matches.
“You have to be careful though because you just start eating them,” Kreklow said. “I have to watch when I put them in so I don’t accidentally, at the beginning of a timeout, pop some in, and then I’m trying to talk, and I’m losing Tic Tacs left and right.”
Susan Kreklow is known for eating Halls cherry cough drops, but she also wears the same sweater if the team won while she was wearing it.
“Depending on the season, you might have a couple of good sweaters and a couple that you don’t wear at all,” Susan Kreklow said. “That’s just kind of for fun.”
Klein is looking forward to returning to her home state of Iowa as the team takes on overall fifth seed Northern Iowa in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday. She is expecting to see a lot of support from her family and friends. While her family doesn’t have any specific traditions, she knows her grandmother Mary Grace Mayer, who Klein calls Grandma Gracie, will be wearing a button with a picture of Klein during her senior season playing volleyball in high school.
Both Klein and Vann were excited about the road trip to Cedar Falls, Iowa, and the time that the team will get to spend together watching movies, texting and gossiping.
“As excited as we are for Friday, we’re also really taking in every second of what we have left.” Klein said. “We have to cherish those last moments.”