The Missouri volleyball team looked fine in front of a crowd Friday. It was the match that hardly anyone saw that didn't look so good.
The Tigers split two matches in their own round-robin tournament at Hearnes Center, losing the opener 3-1 (31-29, 16-30, 30-26, 30-28) to Creighton before rebounding to beat Arkansas State 3-1 (30-32, 30-24, 30-28, 30-21).
In the first match, Creighton won three close games to upset the Tigers in front of a sparse afternoon crowd. MU scored more overall points in the match than the Blue Jays and had better statistics, but came up on the short end of the game score.
The Tigers jumped to an 8-1 lead in the first game, but a 9-3 Creighton run tied the game at 13-13 and then a 10-4 spurt gave the Blue Jays a 31-29 win. Missouri rebounded for a 30-16 win in game two, but dropped the final two games, 30-26 and 30-28.
Coach Susan Kreklow said that MU struggled with maintaining focus throughout the afternoon game.
"Creighton's a good team, and they played very well," she said. "We've just got to be ready all the time, regardless of who we're playing and when we're playing, we've got to be ready to play at a high level."
In the final game, MU held a slim lead for most of the game until an Ashley Williams kill gave the Blue Jays a 23-22 lead. Williams then ended the back-and-forth game and the match with a spike that dropped in the left side of the Missouri defense.
Creighton outside hitter Leah Ratzlaff, who had only eight kills through the first three games, had 10 in the fourth game alone to lead the Blue Jays. It was her 27th consecutive match with at least 10 kills.
"She did a good job seeing where the blockers were," MU middle blocker Lindsey Noll said. "Just ripping it through the block if there was a hole, or cutting it around. She's a very smart player."
The second game started much like the first, with the Tigers losing a close game. This time, however, Missouri was able to come back in front of a loud crowd of 892 and beat Arkansas State in three straight games.
Sophomore middle blocker Nicole Wilson finished the match with six service aces, six blocks and 16 kills for a hitting percentage of .500.
"You look at her overall game," Kreklow said. "From the serving line, she served very aggressively. As an attacker, very involved in the offense, and then blocking. So offensively and defensively she did a good job."
Wilson was one of five Tigers in double figures in kills in the Arkansas State match, a statistic that shows the middle blockers, and not just the outside hitters, were involved in the offense.
Wilson said that helped open up the outside for outside hitters like Shen Danru and Na Yang, who combined for 37 kills.
"We've been working on getting middles going and getting them in there quicker and then setting balls out," Wilson said. "It gives (the outside hitters) more shots. They can hit harder cross-court because they've only got one block up there."
The win also gave Kreklow her 600th career victory. While not all have come at MU, she used the milestone to look back at the success of the Tigers since she took the reins in 2000. Missouri has made four straight NCAA Tournaments since that time.
"You can look at the improvement that we've made," Kreklow said, "but then I think what's exciting is what's yet to come."
She also was able to meet her 600th victory with a little humor.
"When you coach a long time, you win a few games," she said.
Back in the present, however, the Tigers were happy to salvage one game of two on Friday. Shen Danru and Na Yang, who led the attack against Arkansas State, had a day much like the Tigers did as a whole.
"They struggled a little bit (in the afternoon), but they had some time to regroup and get themselves together," Noll said. "And they played excellent, they played very smart (in the evening)."