The Hearnes Center has provided the Missouri volleyball team with an atmosphere that has propelled them to an 8-1 home record. Outside the hallowed halls of the Hearnes Center, the Tigers have shown inconsistency that amounts to a 12-9 overall record.
The team has been without junior outside hitter Julianna Klein for the past two matches, but preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Paola Ampudia has stepped up to fill her shoes. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they have not been able to collectively generate enough offense to keep up with their opponents.
Throughout the season, coach Wayne Kreklow has looked to his quartet of junior outside hitters to generate the bulk of the Tiger's offense. With experienced senior setter Lei Wang-Francisco in the mix, outside hitters Klein, Ampudia, Rosa Medrano and Catie Wilson have gotten good looks and contributed 76 percent of the total team kills.
Klein's absence has been a problem for the Tigers in their past two matches considering the workload that Wang-Francisco places to the right outside hitter position. On long rallies, Wang-Francisco has often dished the attack to Klein up to six times on a single point. Her presence is never underestimated with blockers often staying in front of Klein to prevent the kill.
Kreklow has preached consistency to his team throughout the season, especially early on when junior college transfers Ampudia and Medrano saw their hitting percentages drop dramatically due to their errors. Both have drastically reduced their attack errors and hold hitting percentages of .196 and .148, respectively.
Wilson has had no problem with her consistency throughout the season, notching a .319 hitting percentage with 153 kills. When not playing on the outside, Wilson makes the Tiger attack incredibly lethal at the middle blocker position. Wang-Francisco is often supplied with a third option for attack, making the opponents ability to block that much harder. Wilson also leads the team with 58 total blocks, including 10 solo blocks.
Junior libero Caitlyn Vann has continued her steady play in 2009 with 329 digs in 74 sets, an average of 4.45 per set. Vann has shown her ability to create an effective counter-attack with her feeds to the setter and is often used to set for the four outside hitters. Sophomore defensive specialist Priscilla Armendariz has also become a staple of the Missouri backline with 181 digs, second on the team behind Vann.
The rest of the schedule looks daunting for the Tigers, as 11 of their next 12 matches will be against conference foes. Kansas State (Oct. 28), Texas (Nov. 7), Iowa State (Nov. 21) and Baylor (Nov. 25) will test the Tigers' strength at the Hearnes Center and the trip to Lincoln, Neb., to take on Nebraska (Nov. 4) looks to be the toughest game on the road.
Once Klein recovers from the flu, the Tigers will need to step up to the challenges ahead in their Big 12 schedule. They will need to be able to beat the teams they are expected to beat as well as pull off a few upsets in order to find their way into the NCAA Tournament.