After a history of errors on big-time points, Missouri volleyball player Shen Danru is using this season to shine in the clutch.
Five times during the young season, Shen, a junior outside hitter, has made kills to give the Tigers game victories.
In the Tigers’ first match of the year against then-No. 23 Wisconsin, Shen had a kill to end the first game and another at perhaps the match’s most crucial point, with the teams tied 1-1 and the game tied 35-35. MU went on to beat the Badgers 3-1.
A week later, she used soft touch to drop in a kill to stop Idaho’s momentum and give MU a 32-30 win in Game 4 of a 3-1 Tigers victory.
Shen’s play on crucial points hasn’t always been her strong point, though. She was one of the Tigers’ most potent offensive players in her first two seasons, but a propensity for inconsistency at crucial times in big matches sometimes hurt the team.
A match against Kansas last season went to a fifth game and MU quickly jumped to a 9-2 lead. But the Jayhawks, aided by three Shen attack errors, came back to win 15-13.
Three weeks later, Shen committed an error to give Colorado a 16-14 fifth game win. She again erred on match point in a 15-12 game-five loss to UC-Irvine in the NCAA Tournament.
“She’s always been pretty good about it,” junior middle blocker Lisa Boyd said, “but I think now that she’s had some extra experience, she’s getting a lot more consistent.”
In both of her first two seasons, Shen has led the Tigers in kills but also in errors. Her hitting percentage, which is kills minus errors divided by total attacks, was just .207 her freshman year and .223 last season, good for sixth on the team. After hitting .181 to start the season, Shen has hit .270 in the last five matches. MU went 4-1 in those matches after starting the year 2-2.
Senior middle blocker Jenny Duitsman said it may have something to do with Shen cutting down on errors.
“We’ve been working a lot with that in practice, really making a hard block for her to hit around and she’s been really working on trying to hit to the line,” Duitsman said.
Coach Susan Kreklow said that although limiting Shen’s errors has been a focus in practice, her overall game shouldn’t be overlooked.
“Shen’s a nice, complete player,” Kreklow said. “She does a nice job in the back row, and her swing has been consistent this year.”
Shen had 11 kills and only three errors Tuesday in a Tiger sweep of Southeast Missouri State. MU (6-3 overall, 1-1 Big 12) will need her to continue her recent tear when No. 19 Kansas State comes to Hearnes Center at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
The Wildcats won the Big 12 last season with an 18-2 conference record, including two 3-2 wins against Missouri. K-State advanced to the round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
“We’ve got to be ready to go Saturday night,” Kreklow said. “It’s going to be a great match. K-State’s a very good team.”
KSU is 7-4 and 1-1 in Big 12 Conference play. The Wildcats have played one of the country’s toughest schedules, with three losses against top-10 teams and a 3-0 win against then-No. 11 Texas A&M on Wednesday.
Duitsman said the play of a certain outside hitter will have a big impact on Saturday’s match.
“Shen, she’s been playing a really tough game, and we have to make sure she continues,” Duitsman said.