COLUMBIA — Niki Collier moved from Southern California to Columbia last August, making her “the new girl” on the Rock Bridge volleyball team her senior season. A year later, she has been given that title again as one of the seven incoming freshman on this season's Missouri volleyball team.
“It’s been a crazy year for me,” Collier said, laughing.
Crazy, but still successful. During Collier’s only season at Rock Bridge, the Bruins won their first district championship in 25 years and their 28 wins set the school record.
Besides getting used to a new town and team, Collier also had to switch positions. She had been a libero and defensive specialist in California, but the Rock Bridge coaches wanted her as an outside hitter.
“I jumped right into playing with their team,” Collier said, “At Rock Bridge they wanted me hitting, so I was like, ‘Awesome, bring it on.'”
The Tigers said goodbye to five seniors at the end of last season, and now have seven freshmen on their roster. With nearly 80 percent of the team underclassmen, Missouri is the youngest team in the Big 12 Conference.
The higher playing level has been the hardest adjustment for Collier thus far, but returning players have helped her transition.
“There’s definitely something to be said from going to high school and club to college volleyball, so there’s a little bit of intimidation there,” Collier said. “I’ve been leaning a lot on the other girls. The older girls kind of take you under their wing.”
The Tigers have high expectations after making it to the Sweet 16 in last year's NCAA tournament. This week, they were picked fifth in the Big 12 Preseason Poll, and returning starters Brittney Brimmage and Molly Kreklow were named part of the Preseason All-Big 12 Team.
“Getting people on the same page is the hardest part — knowing what one person’s going to do when in different situations on the court,” Molly Kreklow said.
The team started preseason training camp on Monday. Kreklow said she was optimistic after practicing with the newcomers, and complimented their intensity and focus while playing.
Missouri coach Wayne Kreklow said the high number of freshmen could be an advantage. Before, it took underclassmen longer to feel comfortable on the team.
“It can be really intimidating for them to come in and be surrounded by seniors,” Wayne Kreklow said. “Last year they would be very apprehensive about saying too much, about jumping in too much too early, so I think it’s a good thing. It allows them to relax a bit.”
Wayne Kreklow predicted that sometimes the team’s age will show during games, but overall he’s expecting success from the young team.
“They did so well last season, so it gets all of us freshmen amped up to do well.” said Collier, who then pointed, handgun style, at the Sweet 16 banner hanging in the Hearnes Center. “We’re hoping to get another one of those.”