COLUMBIA — The 1982 team is watching.
The Missouri volleyball team goes into Friday's match at Tennessee with the best record in the nation, poised to break the 1982 school record for the best start to a season. If they win, the 2013 Tigers will claim the longest winning streak in the history of the program.
What: Missouri volleyball at Tennessee
When: Friday at 7:30 p.m.
How: Fox Sports South or live stream on Mizzou Network or ESPN3
Missouri's record against Tennessee: 2-2
"As much as we have been proud of holding that record, we're also proud to watch another team have that kind of success that we were really, really lucky to have," said Sandi Strother, a setter for the 1982 team.
Like today's Tigers, the 1982 team was young and optimistic. There was only one senior on that team, and most of the starters were either freshmen or sophomores with little experience playing together.
So how did they manage to achieve such a record?
"We just gelled so very well quickly, and had success so quickly," Strother said.
The Tigers have just two seniors, setter Molly Kreklow and outside hitter Lisa Henning. The team also has six freshmen, who contribute during practice and matches. Freshman Carly Kan has led or tied for the lead in kills for the Tigers in four matches this season, while Freshman Emily Thater led the team in total blocks for the first four matches of her college career.
It's a young team, but it's also a good team.
In 1982, assistant coach Phil Shoemaker was also young. He played men's club volleyball at Missouri, graduated in 1975, and returned to his alma mater in 1980 as an assistant coach to Mike English.
"For a young coach, you know, I was living the dream," Shoemaker said.
He helped coach a 1982 Tigers team that had what then-sophomore outside hitter Debbie Urbanckas (now Debbie Jemison) called, "a magical year."
Yet memories of the twentieth game, a five-set home tournament loss to Missouri State, are vague. Jemison couldn't even remember who they lost to. Shoemaker also couldn't recall many of the details.
"It was devastating, in a way, because we were starting to feel invincible," Strother said. "But also, it made us realize we were human."
Human like the rest of us. And even though the team didn't make the NCAA tournament, there were other glimpses of excellence that year, such as an early win over perennial volleyball superstar Nebraska. The Tigers have only won three out of 75 matches with the Huskers, one of which came in 1982.
"I remember that match vividly," Strother said.
Both teams were out of timeouts and substitutions in the fifth set, she said. Missouri won by just 2 points.
Much has happened to Missouri volleyball since the program's last 19-0 start. In 1998, the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball changed the rules to include a "rally point system," where teams can score no matter who serves. Now, sets go to 25 instead of 15 points, with a 15-point tiebreaker. Missouri has also moved from the Big Eight, to the Big 12, to the Southeastern Conference. But Shoemaker, now the head volleyball coach at Barton Community College in Great Bend, Kan., sounds a bit like current head coach Wayne Kreklow when talking about the sport.
"You can't control outcomes," Shoemaker said. "So you just work on getting better on a daily basis."
What would he tell the current team as they go into Friday's game?
"Relax, go have fun, listen to Wayne (Kreklow)," he said. "Today is today. It's not anything else."
And if their record is broken, the 1982 team won't hold a grudge. Strother said that they're happy to see a program that has been through several highs and lows (including the 1982 high, and an 0-28 low in 1996) gain some national respect.
"We hope that they just prove ... all those naysayers wrong," she said. "If they beat our record, we'll be super happy for them."