COLUMBIA — At 2 p.m. on a typical Tuesday, Molly Kreklow would be warming up for practice at the Hearnes Center.
Kreklow usually arrives before most of her teammates. She sets the volleyball back and forth with the help of assistant coach Lindsey Hunter while the rest of her teammates slowly trickle in for warm-ups.
When: 6:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Hearnes Center
Television: Mediacom channel 22
This Tuesday, the Hearnes Center court was empty.
Kreklow was instead tucked into the corner of the bleachers, talking to a reporter. At the same time, another news outlet was setting up a video interview for when Kreklow finished.
"This is my unexpected fairy tale," she told a Kansas City Star reporter.
The fairy tale has been the Missouri volleyball team's perfect season. The Tigers are ranked No. 4 in the nation. They are 31-0 overall and 15-0 in Southeastern Conference play. On top of that, the Tigers are poised to become the first Missouri team to be crowned SEC champions if they beat Mississippi State (2-12 SEC) on Friday.
The hype surrounding the Tigers has yet to get the best of them.
Their perfect record has been the talk of the fall, but as they approach the final leg of the regular season, the players are not dwelling on that feat. Instead, it's the prospect of winning titles, such as the the SEC championship, that keeps them going. And though the Tigers have faced tougher opponents, the stakes will be higher on Friday against Mississippi State.
"We have to treat them like they're Florida," junior outside hitter Emily Wilson said. "We can't overlook them. I mean, they are a good team — we can't just be like, 'Oh, whatever.' We have to prepare the same way and just be ready to go."
The Tigers might be approaching the game cautiously, but there is an air of excitement surrounding a team that could take home the school's first SEC championship in any sport.
"I'm definitely thinking about that; I think we all are," Wilson said. "It would be incredible — just to win our first-ever SEC championship, you know, that's really awesome. I think everyone will remember that for forever."
A win Friday would clinch the SEC championship for the Tigers, but according to SEC guidelines, if two or more teams tie for the highest winning percentage in conference play, they would be declared co-champions.
That means even if Missouri wins Friday night, reigning SEC champion Florida is not out of the picture for sharing the title.
Florida is 14-2 in SEC play, and Missouri is 15-0. Florida has two more games left in its season, and Missouri has three, including Mississippi State. In order for Missouri to be named outright champions, the Tigers would need to win two of their last three games of the regular season, or Florida would have to lose one of its last two.
A Missouri win Friday would also clinch a spot in the NCAA tournament. According to NCAA guidelines, if two teams are named co-SEC champions, the team with the most head-to-head match victories would automatically qualify for the tournament. The Tigers upset Florida twice this season: the first time Oct. 20 in four sets at home, and the second time Nov. 15 in a sweep on the road.
The Tigers last went to the NCAA tournament in 2011, when they lost in the first round to Florida. The furthest the team has gone in the tournament was in 2005, when the Tigers reached the Elite 8. This time around, Kreklow said their goal is to advance even further.
"SEC champions was our first goal," Kreklow said. "And after that, we were like, 'We aren't just going to make it to the tournament — we are going to go far in the tournaments, whether that's the final four or national champions.' The sky is the limit for us."
Supervising editor is Sasu Siegelbaum.