Although the Missouri volleyball team is young, that hasn’t decreased the expectations placed on it.
Six of the 14 players are freshmen. Mary Lauren Smith and Juliana Godoi are the only seniors.
Despite the youth, MU is ranked in the preseason polls for the first time. The Tigers are ranked No. 21 in the USA Today/AVCA Top 25. They also are coming off the team’s best season in which the Tigers went 26-8 and won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time.
Still, coach Susan Kreklow said she feels as if the team can build from last year’s showing by taking it slowly.
“A day at a time, a practice at a time, trying to put themselves in position to be competitive at the end of the season so that they can compete in the tournament,” Kreklow said.
The season opens Friday when the Tigers host the second annual Tiger Invitational. MU will play Montana State at 7 p.m. The Bobcats went 21-10 last season and finished third in the Big Sky Conference. Toledo and Arkansas are also playing. Arkansas went 27-6 last season, and Toledo was 11-19. Although the season opens this weekend, the starting positions have not been filled. The Tigers don’t know who will start at middle blocker. Junior Jenny Duitsman, sophomores Lindsey Noll and Lisa Boyd and freshmen Nicole Wilson and Kijuana Sherrod are fighting for the spot.
The freshmen will have to prove they can handle the pace of play.
“I think the biggest adjustment for the freshmen coming in is just to become comfortable with the level of play and the speed of play,” Kreklow said.
Outside hitters will play a larger roll in MU’s offense this season. Freshman Jessica Vander Kooi is expected to make an immediate impact, starting on the right side. Vander Kooi was named a national top 50 recruit last year. Smith is also a major focus for the offense.
Shen Danru, a sophomore, is one of the top returning players. Danru, an outside hitter, set the school record with 64 aces last season. She also is MU’s career kills per game leader, averaging 3.91.
Sophomore Lindsey Hunter, a setter, says the key is not focusing on the youth.
“I think the main thing that we can do is try to get past the fact that we’re really young,” Hunter said.
Hunter is the Tigers’ career leader in assists per game, averaging 14.08.
The Tigers have eight returning players, but will have to rely on freshmen, who have impressed others.
“I was surprised at how well (the freshmen) came in and did,” Smith said.
The Black and Gold scrimmage last week was a good chance for the freshmen to adjust.
“I think that it was really good for (the freshmen) to be able to get out and play in front of a crowd and just get their nerves out,” Smith said.
Godoi said she is not worried about the team’s youth.
“All the teams end up having the same age pretty much, so we’re not dealing with us being really young and the other teams being really old, it’s just a couple of years’ difference,” Godoi said. “After they pass that stage of like, ‘We’re freshmen, I’m nervous, I’ve never done this before,’ we’re going to be just fine.”