As if the teams awaiting them in California weren’t tough enough, the Missouri volleyball team found another opponent standing in its way Thursday: the weather.
After the Tigers’ morning flight out of Lambert International Airport in St. Louis was cancelled because of mechanical problems, the Tigers sat and watched as flights out of the airport were canceled for the rest of the day because of snow.
The team was at the airport from 7:15 a.m. until after 5 p.m. before finally heading to a nearby hotel.
Because of the delay, the NCAA Tournament’s first- and second-round matches in Palo Alto, Calif., have been postponed a day. Missouri will open the tournament against Santa Clara at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. Stanford and Sacramento State will meet at 9 p.m. Saturday, and the winners of the two matches will meet at 9 p.m. Sunday.
For Missouri coach Wayne Kreklow, the delay has made preparing his team for the postseason more challenging.
“It’s hard to say (how it will effect them),” he said. “They’ve been handling it really well. It’s just a long day. If we can get out tomorrow, I think we’ll be fine. Fortunately, the NCAA moved the tournament back. If we have trouble getting out tomorrow, then it’s a different story.”
Kreklow said the team exhausted every possible scenario, including flying out of another city, such as Chicago, but with the entire region shut down because of snow, he said that the NCAA pushed back the games as a last resort.
When the Tigers get to California, they will face tough competition. With all four teams ranked in the RPI top 35, the Palo Alto subregional appears to be the toughest of the 16 tournaments being played across the country this weekend.
No. 21 Santa Clara beat Missouri 3-1 Sept. 8 in Austin, Texas, rallying after the Tigers won the first game.
“They’re a team that’s not going to beat themselves,” Kreklow said of the Broncos. “They’ve got a lot of skill players that play the game well. You can’t expect them to give you a lot; you have to earn everything. They block well, they play ball control well, they play good defense. We have to attack them, our offensive tempo has to be upbeat. The challenge for us is to try to keep the pace of the game faster, make them have to move and make decisions. A lot of that is going to depend on our passing.”
Missouri middle blocker Nicole Wilson said she is confident that the Tigers can turn the tables on Santa Clara.
“I do (feel confident),” she said. “Earlier in the season we were a different team than we are now. So they’re different, we’re different, we’ve had a whole year to work on improvements. I think it’ll be a good game, and I think they’re not going to be quite ready for the differences from when we first played them.”
Wilson said she feels the team embraces their role as the underdog, and that other teams may take the Tigers lightly.
“We’re not expected to win that game, so who cares?” she said. “Let’s just go play, have fun, and whatever happens, happens. I think some teams probably will think we’re not the strongest team out there, so they’ll underestimate us. Hopefully we can use that to our advantage.”
Wilson, along with fellow seniors Jessica Vander Kooi and Abbie Booth, will be looked upon to lead a team full of young players that haven’t experienced the atmosphere of the tournament.
“It’s a lot of (the seniors) responsibility,” Wilson said. “Because we have done it before. But I’m confident that they’ll be fine, and it’ll just be a game that they play and we’ll play and we’ll see what happens. For a lot of them it’s their first chance to play in such a big game. But we’ve played, Nebraska, the No. 1 team twice, so how much harder can it get?”
If the Tigers beat Santa Clara, they will likely face No. 2 national seed Stanford, a team Kreklow called one of four or five “super teams” in the tournament, that will be very tough to beat if they play their best game.
But, Kreklow said he feels his team is not intimidated by its competition and said being the underdog could help.
“Sometimes teams that on paper get a tough draw, sometimes those teams end up playing better because they think they are the underdog and they have nothing to lose and think ‘let’s just go out, and let it rip,’” he said. “Sometimes you can be a high seed and a favorite and stumble because the expectations come with a lot of pressure, and you get tense or tight. I expect us to just play, whether that means we’ll be successful or not, I don’t know, but I think we’re in a good mind-set.”
For now, though, Missouri has to worry about getting out of the snow. Kreklow, though, tried to look at things positively.
“We were fortunate to be in the east terminal, with lots of room to spread out,” he said. “So it didn’t seem like we were caged up with thousands of people. They spread out, they slept, they played games. I think they’re handling it pretty well. They weren’t at all dragging into the hotel with their tails between their legs, it was almost the complete opposite.”