Missouri volleyball coach Wayne Kreklow said in the days before Tigers’ NCAA Tournament first- and second-round matches that serving and the team’s home-court advantage needed to be the difference for the team to be successful.
Kreklow was correct.
The No. 10-seeded Tigers defeated Arkansas 30-25, 30-16, 30-11 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the State College Region Semifinals where they will play No. 7 seed Hawaii on Friday in State College, Pa.
This is the farthest the Tigers have ever advanced in the NCAA Tournament.
“I think obviously we are really pleased with how we played tonight,” Kreklow said. “Being able to come in and do what we did tonight against a very good Arkansas volleyball team was something that I did not expect in the least bit. I thought the match would go like the first game, back and forth, both teams making good plays.”
In the first game of the match both teams looked strong, in the second the Tigers (24-4) started to pull away and in the third MU dominated the Razorbacks (21-12). One of the only things to go wrong for MU in the Game 3 was a rotation violation when Jilly Jaksich, a seldom-used player, was substituted into the match.
“The fans never allowed us to get back in the game,” Arkansas coach Chris Poole said. “I thought the fan support was outstanding. When we got down, they helped keep us down.”
The crowd of 2,490 is the sixth-largest in school history. Missouri’s first-round match against Missouri State had 6,294 fans, the most of any first-round match in this tournament and second-most in school history.
“Any time you can get a crowd like we did tonight it adds so much energy to the whole event,” Kreklow said. “You can’t help but feel that energy coming down and enveloping the floor. It helps you get over the rough spots from our standpoint, and I think it also helps to put a little more of a burden on the opposing team when things aren’t going well. There is just no substitute for a crowd like that in a collegiate event.”
Besides the crowd, MU’s serving was a deciding factor in the match.
“The story of the match was the serving,” Kreklow said. “I thought we had a phenomenal serving night and I think in games 1 and 2 we took them consistently out of their (offensive) system and just made it really difficult for them to establish any kind of rhythm. I think over time it just really wore them down — they lost momentum, they lost confidence, and it was just a really difficult situation for them to be in.”
The Tigers tied a season-high and set an NCAA Tournament team-high with 14 aces against the Razorbacks. The team’s previous tournament-high was seven.
“After watching tape, we realized that there were a few passers that were inconsistent, so I was trying going after those people instead of going after the libero,” junior defensive specialist Abbie Booth said.
Booth led MU with six aces, and senior setter Lindsey Hunter added four.
“They did a great job of taking us out of our offense and out of our game,” said Christina Lawrence, an outside hitter for Arkansas. Kreklow said that sophomore libero Tatum Ailes also served well.
“Abbie and Tate were the difference in the match for us,” Kreklow said. “What those two did back there both serving and passing, and in transition was huge. You don’t see a lot of what they do show up in the box score, with the exception of Abbie tonight with her aces. Tate also doesn’t get a lot of out-right serving aces, but her specialty is serving people out of system with short balls and she did a really super job of that tonight. I was really pleased to see some of these other folks like Abbie step up and really make a big impact in that match tonight.”
Friday’s matchup with Hawaii is the first meeting between the teams.
Kreklow said he does not know much about the Rainbow Wahine besides the team’s history, but will watch game tape of them Tuesday. Hawaii has won three national championships.
Na Yang led MU’s balanced attack with an errorless 13-kill effort, and Ailes led the team with nine digs. The team set a season and team tournament-high with a .505 hitting percentage.