COLUMBIA — When Missouri seniors Molly Kreklow and Lisa Henning were freshmen they played No. 12 Duke in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA volleyball tournament.
Though the Blue Devils were ranked above them, the Tigers came into that game overconfident. The players overlooked Duke and focused in on the chance of making it back to the Elite 8 for the second time in school history. That mistake cost them dearly as the Tigers fell 3-1.
"Looking back on that, that was just something that we did wrong," Kreklow said. "We shouldn't have looked past them. We should've been prepared for what we were supposed to do that night."
That moment stuck with Kreklow over her four-year career at Missouri, and now she has a chance for redemption. The Tigers are seeded No. 4 in the tournament, the highest they've ever been, and are hosting the first and second rounds at home. The team's first match is against Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (19-13) at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Hearnes Center.
This time around Kreklow said the Tigers are going to take their postseason play one game at a time.
"I think with this group, it's going to be a little bit easier," Kreklow said. "We have already talked about that and we've had experiences where we know if we don't play our best volleyball, we can lose to anybody. ... We aren't talented enough to play average and still win."
Kreklow said the Tigers have kept that mentality throughout the entire season and it has propelled them to a 34-0 undefeated regular season to secure the school's first team Southeastern Conference championship.
Because Kreklow and Henning know what it's like to lose a NCAA tournament match they thought they could win, the two have stepped up as leaders to help keep the Tigers — especially the six freshmen — composed going into postseason play.
The freshmen have had tremendous impact this season. Outside hitter Carly Kan has been an essential part of the offense, and she is the first Tiger to be named SEC Freshman of the Year. Middle blocker Emily Thater has come up huge for the Tigers in the middle. During the upset sweep of No.5 Florida on the road, Thater had a perfect 1.00 hitting percentage on 7 kills. Freshmen Loxley Keala and Julia Towler have also seen significant playing time this season.
The hype of the undefeated regular season didn't seem to bother the freshmen, but the stakes riding on their first NCAA tournament could.
"I'm quite nervous," Kan said. "But I'm also really excited."
Kan said that the leadership and guidance that Kreklow and Henning have provided this season will help her maintain composure going into the tournament.
"I think my teammates, I think they just really help me stay in it," Kan said. "I mean, Molly and Lisa, obviously are really great with all the freshmen, I think. It's just really nice to have people who really believe in you and know what you're capable of and that's really helped me so far. All I can do is keeping doing that."
Supervising editor is Nina Pantic.