After committing 101 total errors in the previous three matches with a combined hitting percentage of just .259, the Tigers turned things around in a big way during their four set (25-14, 25-16, 18-25, 25-14) victory over Tennessee on Sunday.
The Tigers big win restored confidence in a team that had been struggling to find its identity since entering conference play. Missouri finished the day hitting .413 and only committed 11 attack errors. It was the first conference match where Missouri hit over .300. The Tigers were successful because of a balanced offensive attack. Four different Tigers finished with double-digit kills.
“I think this match against Tennessee showed we got our confidence back,” middle blocker Tyanna Omazic said. “Personally, I think we are a top team in the SEC.”
The confidence began to show in the first set, the Tigers only made two errors and hit .400 in route to a 25-14 dominating set victory. Missouri carried over the momentum from the first set into the second as the Tigers led the whole way in route to a 25-16 victory. It was another clean set as Missouri only made five errors and hit .394.
“The first two sets we had a great mindset of wanting to win every point and that we had to go get it done,” outside hitter Leketor Member-Meneh said. “I think we got a little relaxed in the third set so we had to turn that back on in the fourth set. We need to remember to keep that ‘win every point’ mentality.”
In Missouri’s only dropped set, the Tigers still hit efficiently. The Tigers hit .344 with only five errors, but Tennessee hit .552 with only one error. The Volunteers had an almost perfect set to clinch the 25-18 third set victory. The Tigers made five attacking errors in the third set alone out of the 11 total in the match.
“We may have gotten a little unfocused after the third set,” Member-Meneh said. “Going into the fourth we really trained our minds to do the little things right and to be disciplined on defense.”
That mentality worked, Missouri came out in the fourth set with one of the best performances of the year. The Tigers hit .516 which helped clinch the set 25-14 and ultimately gave the Tigers the 3-1 match victory.
“We are building off our inconsistency,” interim head coach Joshua Taylor said. “We played really well the first two sets and then there was sort of a lull. But we came out in the fourth and responded like champions. I was very pleased with that.”
Missouri has struggled mentally this season when things have started going the opponents way and it haven't been able to regroup. However, the Tigers made sure that didn’t happen today.
“That fourth set we did an excellent job of resetting ourselves mentally so that it made us feel like we knew we were going to win that set,” Taylor said. “It’s just continuing to remind them to put their focus in the right spots that will restore their confidence and result in high level play.”
“There is still room to grow, and it’s all physiological,” Taylor said. “When they are confident, our girls are playing out of their minds.”
The confidence also transitioned itself onto the defense. The Tigers finished the game with 11 blocks and kept Tennessee to a hitting percentage of just .238.
The offense was where the Tigers shined today, though. Kylie Deberg led the team with 17 kills. Dariana Hollingsworth-Santana and Member-Meneh both finished with 13 and Omazic added another 12. Member-Menes hit an outstanding .619 and Omazic was just behind at .500.
“It puts so much pressure on the other team when we are able to get everyone involved in the offense,” Taylor said. “We become a pretty formidable threat.”
“We are at the top of hitting percentage in SEC and it keeps other teams on their toes,” Omazic said. “It leaves open seams and opens up one-on-one blocks.”
Sunday’s victory improved Missouri to 12-4 on the season and 4-2 in conference play. The Tigers are currently fifth in the SEC and sit 1.5 games out of a tie for first place.
Missouri will be back on the court at 7 p.m. on Friday to take on Arkansas in Fayetteville.