It took the Missouri volleyball team nearly 48 hours to get to California. But a nine-hour wait in the airport, sitting and watching as flight after flight was canceled, and two nights in a hotel in St. Louis are all well worth it now.
Snow held the Tigers back for a day, forcing their NCAA Tournament first-round match with No. 21 ranked Santa Clara to be postponed a day. Saturday night, though, nothing could stop Missouri.
The Tigers appeared anything but sluggish after the travel problems, dominating the heavily favored Broncos 35-33, 30-24, 30-26, to advance to the second round. Missouri (18-11) will take on No. 2 Stanford at 9 tonight in Palo Alto, Calif.
“I think we caught them off-guard with how much emotion we came out with,” Missouri outside hitter Jessica Vander Kooi said about Santa Clara. “We did a great job not being scared. Everyone wanted the ball.”
For the second time this year, the Tigers won Game 1 against Santa Clara. Missouri lost to Santa Clara 3-1 on Sept. 8. This time though, the win came with tons of momentum. Missouri fought off four Santa Clara game points and won the emotional, back-and-forth game on a Tatum Ailes’ service ace. Tiger coach Wayne Kreklow said winning such a tight game provided his team a huge lift.
“The longer the game went on, the more emotionally significant it got,” he said. “It was a huge emotional bounce for us.”
The Tigers racked up 11 aces as the Broncos struggled with ball handling all night, giving Missouri several easy points. Santa Clara had 21 attack errors in the match, while the Tigers had just 11.
“We were serving really tough,” Kreklow said. “I was surprised with the success we had serving. We consistently made it tough for them all night.”
Na Yang led the Tigers with 18 kills and completely took over the match at times, providing Missouri with big point after big point in the first two games.
“Na showed up to play today,” Kreklow said. “She really stepped up.”
Vander Kooi added 12 kills for the Tigers, while Abbie Booth and Nicole Wilson paced the serving attack with three aces each. Anna Cmaylo led Santa Clara (20-8) with 17 kills.
Missouri will be an even bigger underdog tonight against Stanford. Kreklow acknowledged that the Cardinal probably have the better athletes on paper, but he thinks his team embraces its underdog role.
“It’s easy for people outside of our team to think we’re not a very good team,” Kreklow said. “That’s always a motivator. There’s no pressure on us. We just have to go out and play and scratch and claw until the end.”
And while thousands of mid-Missourians may be cursing the snow this weekend, Kreklow and Vander Kooi said it may have been a blessing in disguise.
“I think it really brought our team together,” Kreklow said. “Sometimes shared misery can be a bonding experience.”