Missouri volleyball (20-11, 13-5 SEC) clinched its 14th NCAA Tournament berth since Wayne and Susan Kreklow took over the program in 2000.
After finishing third in conference play, the Tigers will make their third consecutive trip to the tournament when they travel to Wichita, Kansas, for first- and second-round action Friday and Saturday. Missouri will battle longtime rival Kansas (22-7, 11-5 Big 12) at 6 p.m. Friday, with the winner advancing to face Big South champion Radford (25-4, 13-3 Big South) or No. 16 Wichita State (28-3, 20-0 AAC), the tournament host.
The Missouri volleyball beat writers discussed postseason play ahead:
What’s the biggest concern for the Tigers heading into the postseason?
Danny Stewart: Consistency. The Tigers are winners of eight of their past 10 games, and they’ll need to ride their solid play into the NCAA Tournament.
Andrew McCulloch: Missouri ranks fourth nationally and first in the SEC in total blocks (360.5). MU will have to dominate defensively at the net as the Tigers are only 1-7 when they are out-blocked by their opponent.
Teddy Hans: The Tigers will have to limit their errors against the tough teams they will play. Missouri has 592 errors on the season, which is more than both Kansas and Wichita State. Good teams are able to help themselves out and limit their errors.
Caleb Fenner: Missouri has shown it can get hot and go on win streaks. It went on five-game winning streaks twice this season. The key for the Tigers is to maintain that consistency in the postseason.
What do fans need to know about Missouri’s opposition?
DS: The Missouri and Kansas volleyball programs last met in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. Although the Jayhawks swept that match, the Tigers hold the rivalry advantage, leading the all-time series 51-34.
AM: Wichita State breezed through conference play with a 20-0 record. The Shockers have only lost once on their home court this season, and that blemish came in mid-September against an Iowa State team that still resides in the AVCA top 25.
TH: Kansas is very senior-heavy and has plenty of players who have been in this situation before. There will likely be very little nervousness and instead, plenty of players will be eager to make a run during their last season on both sides of the court.
CF: The Border War atmosphere will be an interesting test for both the Tigers and Jayhawks as former conference rivals. Whoever wins that match will likely have an even tougher test against Wichita State, the 16th ranked team in the country, which will be playing on its hom court.
Who will be the biggest difference maker this weekend?
DS: Missouri seniors Courtney Eckenrode, Sydney Deeken, and Ali Kreklow, along with redshirt seniors Kira Larson and Melanie Crow, have all been keys to the Tigers’ offensive success this season. As they enter their final game(s) at Missouri, their leadership on the court will only help the Tigers’ chances.
AM: Senior setter Ainise Havili is the lynchpin in the Kansas offense, averaging 11.47 assists per set. She ranks 14th nationally in assists (1296) and has accounted for an astounding 86.5 percent of the Jayhawks’ total assists for the season.
TH: The Tigers are healthy heading into the postseason and will be looking toward their roster’s depth. Contributions from younger players like Kayla Caffey and Leketor Member-Meneh will be invaluable to a tournament run.
CF: Junior Alyssa Munlyn has often been the biggest difference maker for the Tigers this season. She was one of two Missouri players named to the All-SEC team and how she plays will be an important aspect of the Tigers’ postseason success.