Defense is obviously a key part of every football or basketball game. In volleyball, however, it’s often overlooked.
But Missouri used strong defense to confound Texas A&M on Saturday night for its four-th straight victory. The streak gives the Tigers much-needed momentum before they trek to Austin, Texas, at 6:30 tonight to play undefeated and No. 9-ranked Texas.
Associate coach Wayne Kreklow said a number of key digs helped MU against A&M.
“All those guys in the back row did a really great job (Saturday),” he said. “Time and time again, they just got in there. It was a really great defensive performance by our kids.”
The Tigers recorded 59 digs against the Aggies, tied for their highest total in Big 12 play. They also held Texas A&M to a .203 hitting percentage. Freshman defensive specialist Tatum Ailes led the team with 18 digs, while Shen Danru had 13 and Jessica Vander Kooi had 11.
The addition of sophomore defensive specialist Abbie Booth, who had eight digs Saturday, into the starting lineup has also given the Tigers a more defense-oriented stance. Booth started the last three matches after outside hitter Na Yang was sidelined with a pulled hamstring.
“I think having Abbie in there again was really good for us,” junior setter Lindsey Hunter said. “We got a lot of balls up that really helped the momentum.”
It’s not only a defensive player’s job to dig the ball, but to do so toward Hunter so she can set it for an outside hitter.
“It’s kind of weird,” Hunter said. “I don’t know how it is, but the ball just comes right off their arms and goes right to me. It’s really weird, but it’s awesome.”
The Tigers (10-4, 5-2) will need to continue the strong defensive play against the No. 9 Longhorns (15-0, 7-0), who boast several strong outside hitters. These include Croatian senior Mira Topic, who was an honorable mention All-America selection last year, leads the Big 12 with 5.52 kills a game and has been named Big 12 player of the week for the last two weeks.
“They’ve got some really good outsides,” MU senior middle blocker Jenny Duitsman said. “They’re not necessarily fast, like with a quick tempo, but they just toss it up to the outsides and they slam it. They’re really hard hitters and they are really good at hitting in the holes.”
Texas didn’t begin the season ranked, but victories over then-No. 5 Florida and then-No. 16 Kansas State propelled the Longhorns into the top 10. The victory over Kansas State, in which Topic had 25 kills, snapped a 21-game home winning streak for the Wildcats.
But Kreklow said this is as good a time as any for the Tigers to play in Austin.
“We’re certainly playing well right now,” he said. “We’re playing with a lot of confidence.”