Missouri volleyball team on NCAA Tournament bubble

Tuesday, November 1, 2011 | 9:34 p.m. CDT
Missouri Volleyball middle blocker Brittney Brimmage (Right) slap hands with middle blocker Whitney Little for rotation during practice at Hearnes Center on Tuesday afternoon.

COLUMBIA — Moments after the Missouri volleyball team secured match point against Oklahoma on Saturday night, the players on the bench ran onto the court and mobbed their teammates. They jumped up and down, creating a scene that looked more like a celebration after a walk-off home run in baseball.

"The Oklahoma game was pretty much a payback," senior Brittney Brimmage said. "We lost in five there, so we were like, 'We have to get after them.' We're not going to let them come into our house and just take one away from us."

Border Showdown, Part II

Missouri (18-9, 4-6) at Kansas (13-10, 1-9 Big 12)

WHEN: 6 p.m.
WHERE: Horesji Family Activity Center, Lawrence, Kan.
On Oct. 12, Missouri beat Kansas 25-21, 26-24, 20-25, 28-26 at Hearnes Center.

The Tigers knew the victory over the No. 21 Sooners was important. The postgame celebration reflected that. They just don't know what the win will mean as far as the NCAA Tournament goes. Not yet, at least.

Brimmage said that because the Big 12 doesn't have a conference volleyball tournament, it is tough to see where Missouri stacks up against other teams.

Thirty of the teams in the NCAA Tournament's 64-team field receive automatic bids by winning regular season championships or their conference tournament. Texas (8-1 in Big 12) or Iowa State (8-2) are most likely to receive the Big 12's automatic bid.

The last 34 bids go to at-large teams that are chosen largely on their ratings percentage index, or RPI, which considers a team's win-loss record and emphasizes playing higher-ranked teams.

Currently, Missouri sits at No. 32 in the latest RPI poll released Monday. Missouri, however, is sixth in the Big 12 at 4-6, which is a precarious position considering only five Big 12 teams made it to the tournament in 2010.

Of Missouri's six remaining games, its toughest tests will come against Texas and Iowa State, which are both home matches. Both teams swept Missouri earlier this season. Missouri will most likely need to win against Kansas on Wednesday night and Baylor on Saturday to put themselves in a safer position.

In spite of all this math, Tigers players said it's hard to know what it will take for Missouri to make the 64-team field. 

"It's (RPI) really tricky because you never know who's going to win or lose," Brimmage said.

Niki Collier, one of seven freshmen playing for Missouri this season, said nothing seems certain.

"Obviously, for some teams, they know they're getting in," Collier said. "For us, especially in a big conference like the Big 12, it's up in the air."

Brimmage said the Tigers' older players have talked about their opportunity to make the tournament. But they have tried not to point out which teams the Tigers need to beat, something that would put more pressure on the freshmen.

Collier said the older players don't usually talk about the NCAA Tournament in front of them. 

"I'm sure quite a few of them know our chances, like, we need to win this one and this one," she said.

More than anything else, the freshmen want to see the seniors receive an NCAA Tournament bid, Collier said. Some changes may help them reach that goal.

After the team lost to Kansas State in five sets last week, the players made a pact with coach Wayne Kreklow. For every mental mistake they made, there would be some sort of consequence. The coaches would place one mark after a player's name if she committed some mental error in practice. For each check mark, a player would have to do a set of 10 up-downs, an exercise about as desirable as pushups to a soldier in boot camp. 

The older players have also tried to organize team-bonding activities, like the one they did last Friday night before the Oklahoma match when the team went out to dinner and visited a corn maze.

"The corn maze was kinda cool because you have still have to work as a team. You have to find the checkpoints," Collier said.

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