Going into Game 5 of the Missouri volleyball team’s final regular season match, the Tigers told each other they had nothing to lose.
The team’s carefree attitude worked. The Tigers defeated Texas A&M 25-30, 34-32, 28-30, 30-27, 15-7.
Playing like it had nothing to lose was a change from the way MU (22-4, 16-4) played in the first three games of the match.
Fact is, the Tigers had a lot to lose: a possible first round home match in next week’s NCAA Tournament, a higher seed in the tournament, and sending three of the best players in school history out with a win on Senior Night.
“We knew we had nothing to lose at that point (going into Game 5), so why not give it our all, especially the last game of the regular season?” Lindsey Hunter, a senior setter, said. “That is what we did.”
Missouri coach Wayne Kreklow said he was pleased seniors Hunter, Shen Danru, and Lisa Boyd could finish the regular season with a win.
“You want good things to happen to good people and those three are some of the best,” Kreklow said.
Kreklow said that his team played its loosest in Game 5, which surprised him since normally teams are the tightest in last game of the match.
Still, it was hard for Kreklow to put words to the significance of the seniors to the program.
“All three of them have meant so much,” Kreklow said. “Not just statistically, but personality-wise they are great people. They are great volleyball players.”
Statistically, this senior class is the best to play for MU. Danru is the career record-holder in digs, kills, attacks, aces, and points. Hunter has the career record for assists, while Boyd is third all-time in hitting percentage and became, during Saturday’s match, one of only three players in MU history to have 300 blocks during her career.
Boyd said that the pressure to win, affected the team’s early play.
“We all wanted to win so bad that we weren’t really focusing on each point,” Boyd said.
Kreklow said that going into the final game of the match, he would have taken a loss in stride.
“Even if you lose like that, hopefully the players have shown themselves, when they are not playing their best, when we are in a tough situation, they have what it takes to still hang in there with a very good team,” Kreklow said. “There were more than a couple of times where I was thinking to myself on the sideline, ‘This is the tournament. This is what happens.”
With tonight’s win the Tigers end the regular season in third place in the Big 12 Conference. The last time the school placed this high was in 2002. Nebraska won the conference with a 19-1 record, while Texas finished second at 17-3, handing the Cornhuskers their only loss of the regular season on Saturday night.
Na Yang, a sophomore outside hitter led MU with a career-high 28 kills, while Danru and Tatum Ailes, a defensive specialist, led the team with 16 digs each.
The team will find out today at 1:30 p.m if it earned an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers have a good shot at being one of the 16 ranked teams in the field and hosting the first two rounds of the tournament. Last season, the team earned the 16-seed and hosted the first two rounds of the tournament. MU lost to Louisville in the second round last year.