Big crowds invigorate volleyball at Missouri

Home game attendance is up almost 800 percent since 1999.
Friday, November 3, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:55 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Throughout the 2006 season, fans of the Missouri volleyball team have energized the Tigers and rattled opponents, turning Hearnes Center into one of the most intimidating places in the country to play.

The crowds, especially the VolleyZou student group, have affected opponents enough to draw complaints, which eventually forced Missouri coach Wayne Kreklow to eliminate some of the student seating on Hearnes Center floor.

Junior libero Tatum Ailes said she felt the crowd had not gotten out of line the way some opponents had suggested.

“They help us a lot, but I don’t feel like they harass people like people are saying they do,” she said. “Any time you go on the road, the fans are going to boo you. You want your fans to back you up; that’s why you have a crowd, that’s why you play at home.”

When the No. 21 Tigers take the court against Colorado at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Hearnes Center, they will contune to look for help from their fans.

In the latest NCAA attendance figures, released on Monday, Missouri is fifth in the country in attendance, with an average crowd of 2,917 fans. Only tradition-rich Hawaii, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Minnesota have brought in larger crowds than the Tigers.

The 6,035 fans who packed Hearnes Center for Missouri’s showdown with No. 1 Nebraska on Oct. 11 represented the third-largest crowd for a Missouri volleyball game. And two other matches: the Kansas State match Oct. 21 (attendance of 3.221) and the Kansas match Oct. 4 (attendance of 3,031) also rank among the top-10 crowds.

And, despite recent struggles, Missouri is even on pace to draw more fans than last season, when a record 25-5 campaign energized Tiger faithful and an average of 2,672 fans attended matches. Those numbers are up 83 percent from the 2004 average of 1,460. Things have come a long way since 1999, when average attendance was just 334.

Missouri coach Wayne Kreklow said a lot of things have come together in order for the popularity of volleyball at Missouri to increase so dramatically.

“The people in the community have gotten involved, the teams have performed well, and (Missouri volleyball director of operations) Mike Jackson has worked hard with the VolleyZou group,” he said. “And, I’m not even convinced it’s just about winning. It is about entertainment. People are coming because they want to be entertained, they want to have fun, and they want to see people having fun.”

Missouri has played well in front of its home fans this season. It is 6-2 in Columbia with three home games left. The Tigers will need the crowd to make a difference Saturday. Missouri (14-9, 8-6 in the Big 12 Conference) has lost five of its past six matches, with four of those losses coming on the road. The Tigers lost to the Buffaloes (13-8, 9-5) earlier in the season in Boulder, Colo.

The Tigers have fallen to sixth place in the Big 12, but can pull into a tie with fourth-place Colorado with a win Saturday. A loss, on the other hand, could spell disaster for Missouri. The Tigers have a tough schedule down the stretch, with their next two matches against No. 8 Texas and No. 17 Oklahoma, and a few more losses could potentially knock them out of NCAA Tournament contention.

With such a huge match to be played, the Tigers will be thrilled to be playing it in front of their home fans.

“I love playing here now,” Ailes said. “Our crowd is so awesome. The past two years, they’ve just become a huge force for us and help against the other team.”

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