Missouri’s volleyball team needs to play two different games tonight. One is against No. 8 Nebraska. The other is the mental game of facing a two-time national champion.
“Just the name Nebraska is intimidating,” sophomore outside hitter Jessica Vander Kooi said. “They’ve always been a strong program for so many years.”
It’s not only the Huskers’ name that’s formidable.
When MU goes into the Nebraska Coliseum in Lincoln at 7 tonight, it will enter one of the loudest volleyball arenas in the country. Nebraska, which won the NCAA title in 1995 and 2000, had an average attendance of more than 4,200 last year, second-best in the country.
“Nebraska has a great crowd,” MU coach Susan Kreklow said. “They sell out volleyball in the Coliseum. Their tradition is just very strong, and they have a very, very good team. So going in, it’s certainly a challenge, but it’s a great environment to play volleyball.”
If the combined factors of name value and hostile environment weren’t enough, Nebraska (5-1) is probably quite annoyed.
The Huskers lost their first home match to a non-conference opponent in 18 years when they fell to Florida A&M this past weekend. Nebraska will also be looking for revenge against MU, which snapped a 44-game losing streak against the Huskers last year in Lincoln with a 3-2 win.
Junior setter Lindsey Hunter said the repercussions of winning at Nebraska last year go both ways.
“It gives us a lot of confidence, but we also know that they’re going to be gunning for us,” Hunter said. “They’re going to be shooting especially for us because we did beat them last year.”
But junior middle blocker Lisa Boyd said Missouri’s players can use lessons they learned last year.
“You have to go in there with the mindset that you can beat them,” she said. “That’s what we did last year.”
In the match last year, the Tigers lost the first two games before rebounding to win the match 3-2. Junior outside hitter Shen Danru had 22 kills and 20 digs. MU totaled a season-high 106 digs. Nebraska beat the Tigers a month later at Hearnes Center 3-0.
This year, the match will be the first Big 12 contest for both teams. Missouri (4-2) couldn’t have picked a tougher game to start the conference season.
Adding to the drama of the game is the fact that six Tigers are from Nebraska. Tatum Ailes, one of two freshman starters for MU, is from Omaha and was recruited by both universities.
“I can’t even explain how bad (I want to win),” she said. “It’s real bad.”
Kreklow said the Tigers’ Nebraska-heavy roster could work to their advantage.
“It’s an opportunity for a lot of their friends and family to come to a match they may not be able to see in Missouri,” Kreklow said. “I think it is a motivational tool.”
But none of the Tigers will get a chance to beat Nebraska for a second year if they can’t look past the Huskers’ tradition and the hype surrounding the game.
“What we need to do is go out there and play our game, not worry about theirs…,” Hunter said. “We just need everything to be clicking.”