Coach Susan Kreklow hardly noticed when Missouri was ranked fifth in the 2004 Big 12 preseason poll
“We just take a look at the preseason rankings and move forward,” Kreklow said. “It’s not something we spend a lot of time on. It’s not something we worry about.”
Kreklow begins her fifth season with the team, which opened preseason practice last week at the Hearnes Center. Since her start with MU in 2000, Kreklow has led the team to four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.
“We’re excited about the season,” Kreklow said. “I think the preseason is always an exciting time of year for the coaches to come back in and get started. For the team, it’s exciting to finally get to train and prepare to compete.”
Last season, the Tigers finished sixth in the Big 12 with a 19-11 record. After a disappointing finish, losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to UC-Irvine, the team comes into this season determined to avenge last year’s loss.
“Losing that last game gives us drive to do well coming into this season,” junior Lindsey Hunter said.
The Tigers have a difficult task with three Big 12 teams garnering national rankings in the USA Today Top 25 preseason poll, including a No. 2 ranking for Nebraska. Defending conference champion, Kansas State is ranked 14th.
“The conference is so strong,” Kreklow said. “It’s one of the strongest conferences in the country, in fact, one of the top three. Last year, seven or eight teams from the Big 12 went to the NCAA tournament and there are only 11 teams in the conference.”
With the loss of only one senior, most returning players have seen significant play, including Hunter, who was named to the 2004 All-Conference Preseason Team.
Other top returnees include Jessica Vander Kooi, 2003’s Big 12 Freshman of the Year, and junior Shen Danru, an All-Big 12 First Team selection. Five incoming freshman should also figure into the mix.
“It’s a young group, but we also had a young group last year,” Kreklow said. “We were starting some freshmen and sophomores at the end of last season, and they did very well. They are all a year older and have that much more experience.”
“We have different types of athletes on the team and everyone is contributing in their own way,” Vander Kooi said.
During preseason practices, the team has been focusing on blocking and ball control, Kreklow said. The team’s success this season, she said, will depend on whether they can control the ball and keep the offense playing at a faster pace.
“We are very optimistic about the things this team will be able to do,” Kreklow said.
The Tigers will open the season against Wisconsin at the Badger Challenge in Madison, Wis., on Sept. 3. MU will play its first home game against Creighton in the Tiger Invitational at 2 p.m. Sept. 10, at Hearnes Center. The Tigers face Nebraska on the road at 7 p.m. Sept. 15 to open conference play.