COLUMBIA — Volleyball is a game of intellect.
Missouri volleyball coach Wayne Kreklow says great volleyball players not only need to be physically strong, they need mental strength too. Kreklow says Whitney Little, a sophomore middle blocker for the Tigers, is a great example of a player with a strong mind.
“She concentrates, she thinks, and when she’s here, she’s here all the way,” Kreklow said. “Sometimes we’ll get players that getting them to work hard physically is not a problem, but they don’t always think hard. Whit’s always thinking and concentrating.”
Little is off to a great start this season, and she was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week on Sept. 10. Kreklow said she has had a breakout season this fall because she consistently puts herself in position to make plays.
“The lightbulb just seems to all of a sudden click on, and you see somebody like Whit really kind of take off and do a lot of smart things,” Kreklow said.
Little says that for her, being a smart player boils down to not overthinking while she is on the court.
“As you grow as a player you mature more,” Little said. “I'm not over analyzing things so much anymore.”
It's clear Little’s game has improved. Entering this weekend's competition, she is ranked No. 13 nationally in hitting and is approaching the level play of the Tigers' top player, outside hitter Lisa Henning. Little matched Henning with 13 kills in Missouri's sweep of Mississippi on Sunday.
“I know Lisa is a very hard-hitting force on our team,” Little said. “Being compared to her has definitely increased my confidence.”
Missouri is 2-0 in SEC play so far this season, but it is not the only team racking up wins. No. 13 Florida, which the Tigers are set to play at 6 p.m. Friday in Gainesville, Fla., is also 2-0 in the league. The contest will be a rematch of last year's NCAA Tournament opening round, which the Gators won, 3-1.
Little said she is preparing for Friday's match by replaying last year’s loss over and over again in her head. She said there will be "a hint of revenge" that could motivate the team to bring home another SEC win.
The Tigers will also play Louisiana State this weekend in a match set for 1:30 p.m. Sunday in Baton Rouge, La.