COLUMBIA — They don't have long to celebrate.
The No. 4 Missouri Tigers clinched the Southeastern Conference volleyball championship Friday night and will turn around to play at No. 16 Kentucky on Sunday at 12:30 p.m.
It's the first ever volleyball conference championship for Missouri since the program began in 1974, and the first SEC championship for any Missouri team. A record crowd of 7,879 watched in the Hearnes Center.
Freshman Emily Thater of Springfield committed to Missouri before her junior year of high school, thrilled to represent her home state. Missouri hadn't yet moved to the SEC, and when it did, Thater was excited about the prospect of playing powerhouses like Florida every year.
But during her 2012 senior season at high school, as Missouri struggled through the fall with a 10-10 record in the SEC, Thater had to answer friends and family who would ask how Missouri was doing.
"We're not having the best year right now," she would say.
But she held on to her optimism. She knew whom she was coming to play with, and she knew her fellow freshmen.
"I had full faith," she said.
The success is still staggering: The Tigers are an unprecedented 32-0. And Thater is part of that success.
"Sometimes I just forget; it just really freaks me out in the best way possible, you know?" she said. "I think that we're not going to really know what we've done here until we look back on it in like a couple months or a couple years."
Her team does have a season to finish, after all. The championship could be shared with Florida if Florida wins its last match and Missouri loses its next two. SEC volleyball championship rules dictate that if two teams both have the same conference winning percentage, then both will be champions. Missouri has to win only one more match to be outright champions. Because of Missouri's victories in both head-to-head meetings with Florida, however, Missouri has the automatic NCAA tournament bid for the SEC.
So right now, the Tigers turn their focus to Kentucky.