Seniors have led Missouri volleyball to new heights

Tuesday, November 26, 2013 | 10:01 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — At the end of the season last fall, Molly Kreklow and Lisa Henning were dissatisfied. 

The Tigers' inaugural season in the Southeastern Conference fell short of their expectations. Missouri ended its season 19-12 overall and 10-10 in Southeastern Conference play. 

Senior night game to air live on radio

What: Missouri vs. Arkansas

When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday 

Live broadcast: KTGR 103.1 FM/1580 AM

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But for their senior year, Kreklow and Henning wanted more. 

"We talked about volleyball all the time," Kreklow said. "It's funny to think about now, but we really would talk about it all the time. 'You know, we are going to have a great year for us and for the coaches, and last year sucked and we didn't deserve that.' I can't tell you how many conversations we had like that."

Those conversations led Kreklow and Henning to dream big for their senior year.

"We definitely wanted to be SEC champs," Kreklow said. 

At the start of their season, that goal may have seemed far-fetched for the Tigers. Missouri was not even ranked, and it hadn't been since 2010. The Tigers had to overcome SEC powerhouses Kentucky and Florida to do so, and both had swept Missouri twice last season.

Despite the odds, Kreklow and Henning began spring training with the mentality that they could achieve anything. 

"They were the keys," Missouri coach Wayne Kreklow said. "They were the driving force from a year ago at this time. They were the undisputed leaders of the group, and they really set the tone. What they did a really super job of is that they didn't just talk a good game; they actually walked it, too. They were the first ones at the workouts, and the last ones to leave. When you have leaders like that, it makes it real easy for the rest to follow."

And the rest did follow. Henning and Kreklow convinced their teammates that an SEC championship could be theirs if they worked hard enough. And like dominoes, the rest of the Tigers fell in love with their dream, too. 

"I think Molly and Lisa were intentionally the ones, I think they were just driven," coach Kreklow said. "I think the other people bought in. The juniors and sophomores I think really bought into it. I think the freshmen came in and added a lot of energy. ... I think it was just the constant cultivation of that over the course of the season."

Now heading into senior night, Henning and Kreklow have gotten more than they could have ever dreamed of for their senior year.

If the Tigers win Wednesday against Arkansas, they will finish the regular season undefeated for the first time in program history. Along the way, the Tigers have upset the top-five-ranked Florida Gators twice this season, climbed their way to being No. 4 in the nation and achieved Henning and Kreklow's dream of winning Missouri's first SEC championship, which they did in front of a record-breaking Hearnes Center crowd to boot. 

The records the Tigers have broke and the awards they have won this season would not have happened if not for the driven tenacity of their two seniors, and their individual accomplishments are plentiful.

Henning is a two-time third-team All-American and could make first-team All-American after her performance this season. She has led the Tiger offense that averages a nation-best 15.28 kills per set. Henning herself surpassed Missouri's all-time kill record Nov. 1, and she's at 1,753 and counting. Henning is the reigning SEC Player of the Week going into her last match as a Tiger and has earned that title three times this season and six times in her career. 

Kreklow may not be as decorated as Henning, but she could be.

Kreklow is second in the nation in assists per set at 12.59. Because of her setting, the Tigers lead the nation in hitting percentage (.362), kills per set (15.28) and assists per set (14.51). She has set eight different Tigers to .316 or higher-hitting percentages this season, and she recently became the second Tiger to surpass 5,000 career assists.

"Me and Molly have always been here together," Henning said. "I have been here four years with her, and she has always been my setter. I've never had anyone else. Just to kind of wind our senior season down, it was awesome. It was just me and her; we are the only seniors, just sharing it together. We live together, we are best friends, and we do everything together."

Together, Kreklow and Henning have the most wins of any class in Missouri volleyball history, with 95. More than a third of those wins have come from Kreklow and Henning's undefeated senior season. The pair will leave Missouri as SEC champions, but they both have dreams that reach far beyond that. 

"We definitely wanted to be SEC champs," Molly Kreklow said. "And that's something we talked about, and that's something we knew could happen, but we were just saying, 'Whatever happened, we were going to stick together, as just us two, and take the team as far as we could,' and we thought that with what we had and our relationship, we could really bring that with the team. And I think SEC champions was our first goal, but now, we are saying we aren't just going to make it to the tournament; we are going to go far in the tournament."

Supervising editor is Erik Hall.

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