COLUMBIA — At the start of their season, Missouri volleyball players said they had "something to prove," and Sunday afternoon at the Hearnes Center, they did just that.
The "something to prove" slogan that the team has adopted this season has been at the forefront of every practice and game. It has been plastered on the locker room walls, written on rubber bracelets the team and fans wear, and instilled in the minds of every coach and player.
The No. 18-ranked Tigers have spent their entire season playing to live up to those words, and slowly they have crawled their way to leading the nation in statistics on multiple fronts and holding the best record in the nation.
But Sunday afternoon, when faced with their biggest challenge yet, reigning Southeastern Conference champion No. 2 Florida, the Tigers proved they have something special as they upset the Gators in four sets (25-23, 25-23, 23-25, 25-18), marking the first time in program history the Tigers have beaten a top- five team.
"It feels really, really great right now," said senior setter Molly Kreklow. "I think we just came out and knew what we wanted to do and knew that we could do it and just executed really well tonight."
The Tigers got off to a rough start as nerves of playing such a high-caliber team set in. Missouri trailed Florida early in the first set but quickly rallied to win the set 25-23. The second set was won easily by the Tigers, but in the third set, with the sweep almost tangible, the Tigers dropped the set 23-25 to the Gators.
"What made me more pleased than anything was dropping the third game, and then being able to come back in the fourth," said head coach Wayne Kreklow. "Because then you have to earn it."
Missouri had an impressive 17 kills on a hitting percentage of .471 in the fourth set that helped lead the Tigers to a 25-18 win in the final set.
After its big win against Florida, Missouri is now 23-0. The Tigers are one of only two undefeated teams left in the nation and the only undefeated team in the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers are No. 1 in the nation in hitting percentage (.378), No. 2 in assists per set (14.33) and No. 3 in kills per set (15.13).
Individually, senior setter Molly Kreklow is No. 2 in the nation in assists per set, junior middle blocker Whitney Little is No. 2 in hitting percentage, and senior outside hitter Lisa Henning is the leading active player in the SEC in total kills.
Those Tiger veterans are aided by an explosive freshman class including outsider hitter Carly Kan, who has helped lead both the Tiger offense and defense this season. Kan had 13 kills on .379 hitting as well as 12 digs against Florida, her third double-double of the season.
"It's been really crazy," said Kan of her success this season. "I would have never imagined this would happen and having it happen is that much better."
Despite Sunday's stellar performance, the Tigers aren't done trying to prove themselves as the team looks to capture the school's first SEC championship. As the only undefeated team left in the SEC with 11 games left before the postseason, the Tigers' dream could become reality. But Missouri still has many obstacles left, including a rematch with the Gators on Nov. 15 in Florida.