COLUMBIA — For Missouri women's volleyball, the entrance to the Southeastern Conference is a welcome challenge.
The Tigers will be the youngest team in the SEC and the only team with no seniors. The team was picked to finish fourth in the SEC's pre-season coaches' poll Tuesday and had two players — Lisa Henning and Molly Kreklow — nominated to the preseason All-SEC team.
But, despite being a young team, the team members said they will be entering the SEC strong.
"We've got a lot of people back from last year," head coach Wayne Kreklow said. "We're still pretty young on paper, but most (of the girls) have seasons under their belts."
Missouri brings back important 2011 contributors Henning, Kreklow, Whitney Little, Emily Wilson, Jade Hayes and Katie O'Brien. Sarah Meister, Niki Collier and Melissa Hartsel also return with improvements to their game.
Little and O'Brien recently returned from playing with the USA Development/Bring-It Promotions tour in Italy and Croatia.
Joining the Tigers this year are freshmen Lydia Ely and Regan Peltier and Nebraska transfer, sophomore Taylor Simpson.
Ely, 6-6, is the tallest volleyball player to ever enroll at MU, according to the athletics department, and Simpson, a 6-3 outside hitter, gives the team hope for success in its inaugural SEC season.
"Lydia (Ely) is a really strong player. She's got a lot of height and promise," Kreklow said.
"Right know, we are working on strengthening her weaknesses and getting her completely ready for college ball," Kreklow said of his new middle blocker.
Hayes, who played with Simpson on the 2010 USA Volleyball Youth Olympic Team, said Simpson is "well rounded and really evens out the offense."
"Taylor (Simpson) is really good addition to the team. She brings size, skill and athletic ability. She's the whole package," Kreklow said.
"We were kind of missing something on the team, and she's our missing link," sophomore defensive specialist Hayes said about Simpson.
Hayes said she is really looking forward to this year's team competing in the SEC.
"We've got a lot of versatility on the team. We've been working out every day, having open gym play, and today we started two-a-days. The SEC is a good challenge for us."
The team is talented and works well together, she said.
"I think we are underrated," Simpson said, referring to the fourth place finish in the SEC preseason polls. "Our team as a whole is really awesome, and I think we'll exceed peoples expectations."
"This season is to prove that's not where we should be," junior outside hitter Lisa Henning said of the ranking.
"We're the new kids on the block," head coach Kreklow said. "Everybody's kind of feeling each other out, so we are going to go in and put a good foot forward and show we are a competitive program. We want to show that Mizzou was a good choice," he said.
The Tigers will play their first SEC conference game on Sept. 14, against the University of Tennessee, the top-ranked team in the league.
"We play Tennessee right off the back, and we'll be fresh and ready to go," Henning said.
"It's good we play them first," Simpson said. "It's a chance for everyone to see Missouri in the SEC and for us to gain respect."