MU volleyball team ready to break its losing skid

Jessica Vander Kooi is driven to reverse sting of recent losses.
Wednesday, November 1, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:57 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A season of ups and downs for the Missouri volleyball team has seen more bad times than good lately.

After blowing a 2-0 game lead against Baylor in Waco, Texas on Friday, the Tigers have lost four of their last five matches. On Oct. 11 at Hearnes Center, Missouri played No. 1 Nebraska with a chance to take over sole possession of first place in the Big 12. Now, just three weeks after losing that match, the Tigers are 4 1/2 games behind the Huskers and tied for fourth in the conference with Colorado.

Jessica Vander Kooi, one of Missouri’s senior leaders, is determined not to let the Tigers fall any further down.

She will try to help pull her team out its tailspin when the No. 21 Tigers (14-8, 8-5 in the Big 12 Conference) host Iowa State (15-7. 7-5) at 6:30 p.m. today at Hearnes Center.

“I think us upperclassmen will play a big role,” she said. “A major role will be just to keep the energy up. It’s our role to make sure everyone does their job.”

Vander Kooi, an outside hitter from Hinton, Iowa, has experienced many emotional peaks and valleys throughout the season. After a practice in September, when Missouri was in the middle of a three-match losing streak, Vander Kooi left the court in tears. Later that month, she fought back tears of joy as she celebrated with her teammates after the Tigers knocked off then-No. 5 Texas on Sept. 23.

Vander Kooi has had some of the best individual moments of her career this season. She was named the American Volleyball Coaches Association National Player of the Week on Sept. 25, recorded a career-best 30 kills against Notre Dame Sept. 2, and is now fourth in kills all-time at Missouri.

However, after a 25-5 season last year, Vander Kooi has also had to deal with far more losing than she’s accustomed to, something she says has been hard for her.

“It’s tough,” she said. “But you have to remember why you’re here. You’re here to have fun and enjoy playing. Every time we step on the court, it’s a chance to get better.”

Coach Wayne Kreklow says that although the Tigers haven’t played great lately, a lot of their struggles can be attributed to the competition they have been facing. Two of the four losses during the recent skid have come to No. 1 Nebraska, and the Tigers also lost to No. 17 Oklahoma on the road.

“We have to keep focusing on understanding that that’s the way this league is,” he said. “That can happen to a lot of people. We have to play with confidence and get back to the basics.”

Kreklow said his young players have become overwhelmed at times during Missouri’s losing streak, and that he hopes his seniors can pick the team up. According to Vander Kooi, having to come back from tough times is nothing new for the Tigers.

“We’ve been beaten down,” she said. “But, we’ve done a great job this season of coming back strong again.”

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