If Wayne Kreklow, the associate coach of the Missouri volleyball team, tried to figure the most valuable member of his No. 24 Tigers, he would have several choices.
He could pick setter Lindsey Hunter, who is fifth nationally with 14.38 assists per game, or middle blocker Lisa Boyd, who leads the Big 12 Conference in hitting percentage with .404, or even freshman Tatum Ailes, whose 4.15 digs per game is third-best in the Big 12.
But Kreklow’s calculator uses more than just statistics, and he has another candidate: Jenny Duitsman, the team’s only senior.
“It doesn’t show up in the stat sheet, but if I was giving out an MVP award for this team, (Duitsman) would be right up there with the stat leaders in each category,” Kreklow said. “That’s really how valuable I think she’s been.”
The last regular season game of Duitsman’s career will come at 7 p.m. Saturday against Kansas State in Manhattan.
Duitsman’s worth, Kreklow said, comes from her ability to motivate the Tigers from the bench.
“We’ve been doing this for a long time, and she is one of the best we’ve ever had at being a leader and exerting a positive influence,” Kreklow said. “I can’t say enough about the great job she’s done and the valuable component she’s been.”
But Duitsman isn’t a typical leader. After playing in 85 games her sophomore season and 58 last year, her playing time has dwindled to 19 games this season and no starts. But she tries to keep a positive attitude.
“It’s always tough, but that’s what being a part of a team is about,” Duitsman said. “I love the girls and they’ve been working hard, and if that’s the way it is, that’s the way it is.”
Hunter said a lack of playing time has not affected Duitsman’s value to the team.
“She does so many other things on this team that it would be so much different without her,” Hunter said. “She does a really good job of being a leader, even though she’s not on the court, and she’s just a big example for us.”
Ailes said that seeing Duitsman go will be sad because the senior was the first person on the team to befriend her.
“I moved down here earlier this summer. I came down really early and I roomed with her and Melissa Alberry,” Ailes said. “Jenny was the one who helped me move in.”
Although Duitsman’s career at Hearnes Center ended Wednesday night, when she had a season-high five kills in a 3-0 win against Oklahoma, postseason play is likely for her and the Tigers.
Hunter said she is confident the Tigers will receive an at-large bid to the 64-team NCAA Tournament when selections are made at 5:45 p.m. Sunday.
“I think after the win (Wednesday), we’re definitely in,” she said. “We’re sitting pretty well.”
A win against Kansas State would help seal the deal for Missouri. The Wildcats beat the Tigers 3-0 earlier this season at Hearnes Center, and Missouri (19-7 overall, 14-5 Big 12) hasn’t won in Manhattan since 1993.
“They always play well at home, but I think we’re ready for them this time,” Hunter said. “We’re due to beat them this year, and I think we’re peaking at the right time.”
A win against the No. 23 Wildcats (18-10, 12-7) would help the Tigers with seeding for the tournament, but the Tigers have extra incentive because a win would send Duitsman out the right way.
Duitsman said she’s already enjoyed her time as a Tiger.
“It’s just an honor,” she said. “Everyone works to get to this point, and this has been my dream since I was younger was to be able to play for a Division I volleyball team. It just shows how hard work can get you places.”
And, according to Kreklow, Duitsman’s story also shows how one player can be so valuable, even if it’s mostly from the sideline.