For the third time this season, Missouri volleyball was forced to defend against set point in the decisive fifth set on Friday night in Tuscaloosa, Ala. But for the first time, the Tigers succeeded in responding with a point of their own. The late score extended an already-dramatic five-set match against Alabama into extra points, and this time, the Tigers were determined to keep history from repeating itself.
A questionable replay review with the score tied at 13 apiece in the fifth set went Alabama’s way, giving the Crimson Tide match point at 14-13. Nonetheless, Missouri’s leader for the night, Leketor Member-Meneh, responded with a powerful kill close to the sideline. But then she made a crucial attacking error that forced Missouri to have to respond once again, something the Tigers have had trouble doing this season.
Middle blocker Kayla Caffey made an aggressive swing at the net that deflected off a Crimson Tide defender, giving Missouri a 17-16 lead. And finally, Member-Meneh closed out her outstanding night with an ace that landed on the sideline.
The ace clinched the Tigers’ five-set (25-22, 20-25, 23-25, 25-22, 18-16) thrilling victory over Alabama on the road and snapped Missouri’s two-game losing streak. MU improved to 15-6 on the season and 7-4 in conference play.
“What a match by both teams,” interim head coach Joshua Taylor said in a press release. “Both squads showed a lot of fight and this match truly could’ve gone either way for us. I’m pleased with our ladies for continuing to fight and battling until the very end. Getting wins on the road in SEC play is a big deal and we’ll look to continue this momentum Sunday at Georgia.”
The match was a rollercoaster ride for the Tigers. They began the match strong, with Tyanna Omazic and Caffey controlling both the momentum and emotion in the early going. They combined for nine kills on .857 hitting in the first set that allowed the Tigers to rattle off a 7-1 run and go up one set to none. Omazic seemed to stand out early in the first set, coming up with important kills to keep the momentum with the Tigers.
The momentum didn’t last long, though. Missouri looked lost in the second and third sets, unable to consistently set up its offense and repeatedly miscommunicating on defense, allowing for easy points for the Crimson Tide.
Missouri’s reoccurring problem of allowing errors to snowball was evident in set three. The Tigers had a commanding 17-12 lead and looked ready to go up 2-1 in the match. However, Missouri committed eight errors in the second half of the third set to allow Alabama to steal it 25-23.
The fourth set saw the takeover of Member-Meneh. She started leading the offense from the outside, taking cross-court shots that had Alabama defenders diving just to get their fingertips on the ball. The Tigers hit .464 in their 25-22 fourth set win.
Despite winning the fifth set, the Tigers made five total errors. But Alabama made three in a row that allowed Missouri to come back from an early 6-3 deficit. In all, Missouri made 38 total errors in the match compared to Alabama’s 28.
The win couldn’t have happened without Member-Meneh. The 5-foot-8 outside hitter had a team-high 21 kills, two service aces, nine digs and two solo blocks. Caffey had a career-high 13 kills on an outstanding .684 hitting while also attacking three blocks. Omazic also had a big night with 11 kills on .368 hitting and three blocks.
The win was the Tigers’ sixth straight over the Crimson Tide, improving their all-time record against Alabama to 10-3.
Missouri will be back on the court at 1 p.m. on Sunday against Georgia in Athens. The Bulldogs are tied for third in the SEC with a 9-3 conference record.
Supervising editor is Michael Knisley.