The Missouri volleyball team found itself in a place it hadn't been in all season.
The No. 4 Tigers were down two sets to one against unranked Purdue Saturday at the Hearnes Center — it was the first time they had lost two sets to anyone all year. With Purdue leading late in the fourth set 20-18, the Tigers faced an unfamiliar fear, the strong possibility of losing a match.
The serve came, and the Tigers scrambled. Senior Molly Kreklow tried to direct her troops, but the desperation of her players was overwhelming. The ball was sloppily passed without direction, and the Tigers screamed at one another to keep the ball alive. When no one made a move, freshman Carly Kan made a last ditch effort to save the play. The ball hit the ground and surprised gasps resonated from the home crowd. Kan lay on the ground, face into the court, exasperated.
After a moment, she peeled herself up, and walked toward her teammates. They huddled just for a second, before head coach Wayne Kreklow called a timeout.
"At that point there wasn't really anything strategic that they (the coaches) could have told us to really make a difference, it was on us and I think we knew that," Molly Kreklow said. "I think for the most part it was just us rallying each other."
Returning to the court, the Tigers had a fire that unfortunately came too late. They tied play and forced Purdue into extra points, but it wasn't enough. An attempted kill from junior Emily Wilson landed out of bounds, and just like that the Tigers season came crashing down with just one loss.
"At the end of the day for us, like I told the kids in the locker room, in sports some days it's your day and some days it's somebody else's," Wayne Kreklow said.
Saturday was not the Tigers' day.
The four sets loss (18-25, 25-23, 16-25, 25-27) came with heartache. Seniors Lisa Henning and Molly Kreklow walked into the postgame press conference with red cheeks and tears still in their eyes. While Wayne Kreklow gave opening statements, his two senior leaders kept their eyes downcast, looking at statistic sheets that were on the table in front of them.
It was Molly Kreklow and Henning who had a big dream and took the reins in making that a reality. They wanted to be Southeastern Conference champions, and on Nov. 22, in a sweep of Mississippi State, that dream came true, but the seniors wanted more. They had dreams of getting the furthest the Tigers had ever gotten in post-season play — the final four. Their dreams, and careers as Tigers, had come to a bitter end.
"I think, looking back, it's all really kind of not sunk in yet tonight," Molly Kreklow said robotically, not making eye contact with the reporter who asked her the question. "I think a couple years from now we'll look back on this and I think it's definitely been a special year."
The seniors left the interviews as quickly as they could, but Wayne Kreklow stayed behind. He was emotional about his season's end too, but he had one last piece of advice for his team.
"That's life," Wayne Kreklow said."That's sport. That's why you play games. I think at the end of the day you want to make sure that when that happens, whether you're in sport, whether you're someplace else, its that when you're finished, when it's over, you can walk out feeling like 'I competed'."