The Missouri volleyball team looked poised to head to the NCAA Tournament after winning crucial matches during the home stretch of the Big 12 schedule, but the team stumbled in its last three matches, and its season ended without a trip to the tourney.
The Tigers (18-14, 9-11 in the Big 12) had been playing well with junior outside hitter Paola Ampudia leading the charge at the net, but the tail end of the schedule will haunt the Tigers as they prepare for the off season. Injuries during the season were minimal, but the diagnosis of mono to junior outside hitter Julianna Klein hampered the attack.
In her first season for the Tigers after transferring from Miami Dade Junior College, Ampudia was named the unanimous Big 12 Newcomer of the Year by the league's coaches, posting 410 kills — 281 of which came in the last 16 matches. The junior had been nothing short of spectacular in filling the shoes of the power-hitting Klein, posting a school-record 35 kills in a four-set win over Kansas on Oct. 24.
Before coming down with mono, Klein was the most important key to the attack. Senior setter Lei Wang-Francisco looked to her multiple times on long rallies.
The Tigers' biggest loss will surely be Wang-Francisco, who became the school's all-time leader in sets played. Wang-Francisco finished her time at Missouri as one of the most consistent players on the team. Her 1,139 assists facilitated the balanced attack of the Tigers and her heads-up play allowed her to drop balls in to the opponent's side of the net. Senior middle blocker Amanda Hantouli, who was used largely in a utility role, has also played her last game in black and gold.
Between the quartet of junior outside hitters Rosa Medrano, Catie Wilson, Klein and Ampudia, Missouri could have one of the strongest attacks in the Big 12 in 2010. Medrano, who is also a transfer from Miami Dade Junior College, settled into her role early in the season, winning MVP of the Tiger Invitational in August. Wilson finished the season third on the team in kills (220) and first in hitting percentage (.324). With an inexperienced setter coming into the mix in 2010, Wilson should be able to provide a high level of consistency to keep the Tigers competitive.
The Tigers remained consistent on the backline throughout the season due largely in part to the play of junior libero Caitlyn Vann, who led Missouri in digs (484) and service aces (31). Sophomore defensive specialist Priscilla Armendariz stepped up her play during Big 12 play with solid digs to set up the attack for Wang-Francisco.
If Missouri wants to finish in the top half of the Big 12 next season, winning road games will be vital. With such nationally dominant teams as Texas, Iowa State and Nebraska in the conference, scoring away wins is important in the home-and-home Big 12 schedule.
The future is promising for the Tigers. They will have one of the most experienced attacks in the Big 12. Filling the shoes of Wang-Francisco will be tough considering her consistent play throughout her four years and the competition between freshman setter Kate Harris and top-20 recruit Molly Kreklow to do so should be fierce. The program should challenge at the top of the Big 12 with the amount of experience but will need to be competitive against the perennial powers to call 2010 a successful season.