When Missouri’s volleyball players take the Hearnes Center court at 6 p.m. today to play Arkansas, expect a little extra bounce in the Tigers’ steps.
What’s the occasion? The first home NCAA Tournament game in Missouri’s history, the fifth time in a row that the Tigers (19-8) have appeared in the NCAA Tournament, a chance for the Tigers to win their second tournament game and the highest national seed Missouri has received at No. 16.
And for one Tiger, there is an additional reason to be excited. As a high school senior at Parkway West in St. Louis four years ago, junior middle blocker Lindsey Noll was ready to sign and play with Arkansas.
“When I was looking at schools, (Arkansas) had been recruiting me pretty heavily,” Noll said. “I really liked the school a lot. … That’s where I really wanted to go.”
But then an Arkansas player who would have graduated the year Noll would have started school had to take a year off because of a family emergency. When she came back to play a year later, the Razorbacks had one less scholarship than anticipated. Noll was the odd woman out.
“It was kind of a freak thing,” Noll said. “It was nobody’s fault, just bad luck. But after that happened, I was really kind of confused… My parents were like, ‘Well, you need to go take a look at Mizzou.’ ”
At that time, Susan and Wayne Kreklow had just started their tenure at MU, and they were able to attract Noll.
“All I knew about was the former coach, and I really wasn’t interested at all,” Noll said. “I came in and talked to the Kreklows, and really just wound up falling in love with the school. After it all happened, I was really happy. … It’s kind of like God’s unanswered prayers.”
Missouri and Arkansas have met once before during Noll’s career, a 3-1 Tiger win in August 2003. Noll said she has no hard feelings toward the Razorbacks, but that it’s kind of a funny feeling to play against them.
“I’m always like, ‘Hmm, I almost went to that school,’ ” she said.
This matchup will be different because there is so much on the line. The winner will play the winner of the
4 p.m. match between Illinois and Louisville in a 6 p.m. match on Saturday at Hearnes Center.
That winner goes to the Regional Semifinals in Louisville, Ky., on Dec.
10-11, a round Missouri has never reached before.
In 2002, MU beat Northwestern in the first round before blowing a 2-0 lead against Northern Iowa in the second round in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Junior setter Lindsey Hunter said that Tiger team was good but that this year’s version is even better.
“My freshman year we made it to the second round,” she said. “I think we have higher expectations this year.”
But before the Tigers can think of the Sweet Sixteen, there is business to take care of today. Arkansas (17-15), which started the year 2-8 but sneaked into the tournament, is strong defensively. The Razorbacks averaged 3.13 blocks per game and held opponents to a .183 hitting percentage. One thing that may help Missouri is playing at Hearnes Center.
“Being able to play at home, we have a tremendous advantage,” Susan Kreklow said. “We play here and practice here every day. You have a lot of confidence when you play at home. We’re really excited to play here in front of our fans and see what we can do.”