Midway through a typical Missouri practice, Ali Kreklow, 10, and her brother Ryan, 8, are running around Hearnes Center, climbing on the referee’s stand, borrowing their mom’s camera phone to take pictures as she is trying to serve a ball, and getting hugs from the No. 7 team in the nation.
Wayne Kreklow has won a state, college and professional championship. His wife Susan Kreklow has won a college national championship and has earned conference, regional, and national coaching awards.
Yet their greatest accomplishment could be going on right now: managing to raise a family while making Missouri volleyball a national- championship contender.
The Kreklows have transformed the Columbia volleyball scene from apathetic into a city with two nationally-ranked teams. Through their passion for the sport and development of a family atmosphere, the Kreklows’ have managed to improve a winning program into a national champion at Columbia College and turn a perennial sub-.500 team at Missouri into an annual NCAA Tournament contender.
Wayne Kreklow was raised in Neenah, Wis., where he was a stand-out basketball player in high school, and then attended Drake University. At Drake he played basketball and is sixth on the career scoring list.
Susan Kreklow grew up in Rogersville, Mo., where she played volleyball and continued her career at Central Missouri State for two years. She then transferred to Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State) to be closer to her family.
Their love and passion for volleyball came about in the same way.
Wayne Kreklow, like Susan Kreklow, started playing in high school and continued to play in college on Drake’s club team once the basketball season was finished.
“I always really enjoyed playing,” he said. “In fact, if I would have had the opportunity to play volleyball coming out of high school, I don’t know if I wouldn’t have done that.”
If Wayne Kreklow had decided to play volleyball in college, he would have missed out on an NBA championship. Kreklow was drafted in the third round of the 1979 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics, and played on the 1980-81 team when the Celtics won the championship. Kreklow has also played in the Continental Basketball Association and professionally in Australia.
After finishing his professional career, Kreklow took a job as a social studies teacher at Central Decatur High School in Leon, IA., where he coached girls’ volleyball and boys’ basketball.
Susan Kreklow taught physical education at St. Clair High School while working on a master’s degree in counseling psychology from SMS and coaching girls’ volleyball, basketball, and track and field. After getting her master’s, Susan Kreklow became a guidance counselor in Washington High School in Washington, Mo., and coached club volleyball.
Wayne and Susan Kreklow were introduced to each other in 1988 while playing club volleyball for different teams.
The two began having a long distance relationship and eventually both moved to Columbia to coach volleyball. They married on Aug. 5, 1992, and have three children: Rick, 13, Ali, 10, and Ryan 8.
While Susan Kreklow was a guidance counselor, she read an advertisement in a paper that said Columbia College needed a new head coach and decided to apply.
Bob Burchard, the athletic director at Columbia College, said it only took one meeting with Susan for him to realize hiring a high school coach was not a risk.
“I was very confident that she could very quickly identify and recruit students to our program,” Burchard said. “She has a great presence that could represent Columbia College and the athletic department very well.”
She began coaching at Columbia College in 1990.
At the same time that Susan was making the transition to Columbia College, Wayne Kreklow was also making the move from coaching high school to college. In 1989 he became an assistant coach at Missouri under coach Craig Sherman and coached at MU until Sherman was replaced by Disa Johnson in 1994. At that time, Kreklow joined his wife at Columbia College as co-coach of the women’s team. The Cougars were a winning team with Susan Kreklow as coach, but once her husband joined the staff, the team had unprecedented success.
“Susan came in and elevated our recruiting,” Burchard said. “That took us to one stage, and eventually Wayne and Susan together brought a team approach to coaching that took us to the national championship level.”
In 1998 and 1999, Columbia College produced an 85-0 record and won the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Volleyball National Tournament twice. The Kreklows were named NAIA Co-Coaches of the Year in 1997 and 1998.
After accomplishing all that they could at Columbia College, the Kreklows’ were about to make a huge decision. MU’s volleyball coaching positions were open and the Kreklows wanted the job.
“It was an opportunity to do something at a different level,” Susan Kreklow said. “We really enjoyed our time coaching at Columbia College, but we had an opportunity to have a new challenge. It was something we thought about a long time and we decided it was time to do something different.”
Sarah Reesman, an associate athletic director at MU, said the Kreklows were hired in part because they had the ability to win, they do things the right way, and because of their involvement in the community.
Wayne Kreklow considered the job opening an opportunity his family couldn’t pass up.
“For this to happen right here in town at that particular point in time was a really a blessing for us,” Wayne Kreklow said. “I don’t know if we could have mustered the strength to uproot our entire family and move.”
The situation the Kreklows walked into at MU was different than the one Susan Kreklow had at Columbia College. The Tigers were coming off their seventh-straight losing season when Susan took over as coach at MU.
In their first season at MU, the Kreklows transformed a 10-21 team into a 24-7 team that was the first volleyball team at MU to make the NCAA Tournament.
“I think we had a different philosophy and style that the kids really took to,” Wayne Kreklow said. “We just needed to find a way to let these kids relax and play the game.”
Since 2000, the Tigers have gone to five consecutive NCAA Tournaments, making the second round twice.
At the beginning of this season, Susan and Wayne Kreklow switched jobs with Wayne Kreklow taking over as head coach and Susan becoming associate head coach. The Tigers are 12-0, 6-0 Big 12, and are the No. 7 ranked team in the nation.
Rick, Ali and Ryan Kreklow are having a unique experience. Someday they will realize that not all children grow up around a Division I athletic program.
Susan and Wayne Kreklow have always had their children around whether it was at Columbia College or MU, at practice or on the road with the team. The Kreklows’ dedication to volleyball is second only to their dedication to their family.
“The day that Ricky was born, she attended volleyball practice,” Burchard said. “Susan gave birth then, came to practice.”
Neither Wayne nor Susan Kreklow could remember if it was Rick or one of their other children, but they did admit that at least one of their children did go from the hospital to Columbia College before they went home.
“They were there early,” Susan Kreklow said. “It was a convenient stop from Boone Hospital. It was very fortunate that Bob (Burchard) allowed us to have the kids there the first few months, which allowed me to work without having to be away.”
Burchard said that most college administrators help coaches accommodate to their families as much as possible.
“We were flexible enough to involve them (the Kreklow children) in their work life,” Burchard said. “We know the time demands are phenomenal and if you want to keep quality people you have to have some flexibility with their family life.”
Both Wayne and Susan Kreklow admitted that it was easier to handle parenting and coaching when the children were younger. They said at Columbia College they would keep the children in their car seats and put them behind the scorers’ table, or lay some blankets in the corner of the gym so that they could nap.
“We found places where we could shelter them from the balls,” Susan Kreklow said. “Usually there were enough people around that it was easy to have them there.”
Rick, Ali, and Ryan used to travel with the team, but now they are more involved in activities and it is harder for them to miss school, Wayne Kreklow said.
“Now we are trying to coordinate ‘this one has soccer practice at Stephens (Lake) Park at 4:30,’” he said. “‘Ali had practice at 5:30 at West Junior High, and Ryan has practice at Reactor Field.’ Fortunately they aren’t on the same nights.”
Susan Kreklow said that coordinating schedules has been the most challenging part of what they are doing right now. She said that after school they may have to go to as many as six places with the children.
Wayne Kreklow believes growing up with the team has helped Ali.
“She has some great role models,” Wayne Kreklow said. “Our players are just awesome with her. It has been really great for her to have these great girls who are great athletes and great people. You couldn’t ask for a better situation for her.”
Abbie Booth, a junior defensive specialist, believes the team embraces being a role model for the Kreklow children.
“We love it when they come around because it’s like we are their big sisters,” Booth said.
One of the reasons for the success of the Kreklows at Columbia College and MU has been the family atmosphere that they create.
“Our team is in a sense an extended family,” Susan Kreklow said.
Most of the players say that they enjoy the family atmosphere, and that it was one of the reasons they chose MU.
“They not only love the game, but they love us as a team too and we are a family,” said Jessica Vander Kooi, a junior outside hitter.
Both Reesman and Burchard said that when recruits look at a school a family atmosphere is important to both them and their parents, and they have both seen the Kreklows create this atmosphere at their schools.
“For me, they fill the void of parents not being able to come to matches and be there to support us, yet they are there to support us.” Vander Kooi said.
When recruiting Wayne Kreklow said he and his wife do not put on a facade to impress recruits, they are simply themselves.
“We are who we are when we are recruiting and looking at kids,” Wayne Kreklow said. “It’s hard for us to be someone we aren’t. […] We are just regular people that like kids and we like being around our student athletes. We like helping them become better people and become better players. Hopefully when they are finished, whether it is right after college or on a national or pro team, I would hope that at some point in time we helped them be better prepared for life after volleyball.”