Last season, Lisa Boyd, Shen Danru, Lindsey Hunter and Lindsey Noll played key roles for the Missouri volleyball team as freshmen.
Jessica Vander Kooi and Nicole Wilson fill that role for the Tigers this season.
No. 24 Missouri will rely on its freshmen at 7 p.m. Saturday when it hosts No. 21 Texas A&M at Hearnes Center in a Big 12 Conference match.
The Aggies are 16-5, 8-3.
Vander Kooi has started every match for Missouri (16-5, 9-3) this season, but has improved her play since the start of conference competition. She has five double-doubles, all in conference matches and has consecutive double-doubles against Colorado, Texas Tech and Texas.
“I feel a lot more comfortable than I did early in the season,” Vander Kooi said. “I am used to playing with the girls and knowing where they are at and fill in the holes.”
MU associate coach Wayne Kreklow said that Vander Kooi is playing better because she is relaxed on the court.
“She’s getting more comfortable,” Kreklow said. “She has a good instinct for the game and when she relaxes that allows the instinct to take over. When you have to think too much and mentally process a lot of information on a conscious level, your body can’t react anymore. Whenever you can allow the unconscious to take over, you can play quicker and faster.”
Wilson began the season on the bench but has moved into the starting lineup in the Big 12 season.
She said that playing club ball helped her adjust to college, something she would not have been ready for straight from high school.
Kreklow said Wilson fills the middle blocker position well.
“What Nicole brings to the team and what is critcal at that position is blocking,” Kreklow said. “As a middle, you must be able to block and then if you can attack, that is great. I feel that Nicole is the best natural blocker on the team.”
Kreklow said Vander Kooi and Wilson have handled the length of the season and the speed of the game, the two biggest differences in high school and college volleyball, well.
In addition to playing a longer season, freshmen are normally not ready to face the best competition every match.
“They might, at a high school level, do that once a year at the state tournament,” Kreklow said. “And then it is only one player on the opposing team. What they face here is every time they go play, they are facing the best players they’ve ever seen.”
Although Vander Kooi had to learn quickly to make MU’s opening match lineup, Wilson had more time to learn behind returning middle blockers Boyd and Noll.
“Watching the middles and seeing how well they move,” Wilson said. “I try to copy them and make adjustments.”