Young Tigers get started

Thursday, August 21, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:45 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Missouri volleyball coach Susan Kreklow stood quietly Wednesday night on the floor of Hearnes Center as she watched her team scrimmage in the Black and Gold match.

It was not an angry quiet, nor was it one of satisfaction.

Instead, Kreklow’s stare was one of contemplation as she watched her players practice on the cusp of beginning the season ranked No. 21, the first MU volleyball team to start a season ranked in the preseason polls.

Sporadic claps were spaced apart by long periods of silence as she watched and gauged her team’s progress.

“We saw a lot of different things tonight,” Kreklow said. “We saw a lot of things that we can take back to practice and work on and prepare for our first tournament.

“Tonight was just a time for us to evaluate. We were simply looking at and trying to watch the players and watch them play.”

The Black team, which wore white, won the match 2-1 with scores of 30-20, 27-30 and 30-26.

The scrimmage, though, was more of a lesson in exposure rather than a contest predicated on who won or lost.

“This was the first time that (the freshmen) had taken the court as a Mizzou volleyball player,” Kreklow said. “There were a lot of nerves and a lot of jitters, but I think it was really good for them.”

The Tigers start the season Aug. 29 with a four-team Tiger Invitational.

Those in attendance Wednesday got to see the first product of a couple of weeks worth of the practice.

They were also witness to what might be considered the next generation of MU volleyball. The 14-player roster is heavy on the youth, with six freshmen and four sophomores.

“Almost half the team is new, but I think everyone is dealing really well,” said Mary Lauren Smith, a senior outside hitter. “The freshmen have really handled it well.”

In their three seasons at MU, Kreklow and her husband, Wayne, an assistant head coach, have turned around a program that was routinely at or near the bottom of the Big 12 Conference standings.

In their first three seasons they have posted the first back-to-back-to back 20-win seasons since 1981-83.

Their success has been noticed, for they have been ranked, at different stretches, a combined 34 weeks during the three-year tenure.

The Kreklows look to continue their success with a team seniors Juliana Godoi and Smith will anchor. Sophomores Lindsey Hunter and Shen Danru also look to play a big part.

Danru, a sophomore outside hitter, led MU last season in kills, attacks, aces and digs.

Smith, and Hunter, were named as All-Big 12 honorable mention candidates and they do not see the team’s youth as a reason to lower expectations.

“I always expect us to take a step forward every year,” Smith said. “As long as we do that I’ll be happy.”

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