After Missouri dropped two sets to Texas A&M on Saturday at the Hearnes Center, things were not looking good for the Tigers. Three sets later, the Tigers were celebrating a five-set victory thanks to the team's ability to fight back despite facing extreme adversity.
"I'm really happy they could hang in, gut it out and come out on top," coach Wayne Kreklow said.
Texas A&M came off a big win against No. 6 Nebraska in College Station earlier in the week and appeared to be headed to another dominating performance. After the intermission, Missouri went on a roll and kept swinging to force a fifth set and eventually win.
"I said it to them in the third game, 'who wants this,' and everyone was yelling 'we want this,' and it really got us pumped," said senior setter Lei Wang-Francisco, who recorded 50 assists.
The teams battled for every point, which resulted in a high number of total attacks. Junior outside hitter Julianna Klein contributed 78 total attacks and 19 kills for the Tigers while junior outside hitter Paola Ampudia swung at 50 balls and notched 19 kills as well.
Through two sets, Klein already had 45 total attacks and 10 kills. Wang-Francisco continued to go to her most experienced hitter even though her accuracy was suspect early on.
"It helps a hitter when you have a setter that has the confidence in you to keep going back you," Kreklow said.
Especially during the long rallies, Wang relied on Klein to step up and take maximum swings, sometimes hitting the ball four and five times on a single point.
"It's this mentality that I can't stop swinging,” Klein said. “I don't have a choice. Regardless of whether I feel good about my swing, I'm not going to stop swinging."
Junior libero Caitlyn Vann needed four digs to move into seventh place all-time at Missouri and did so in the first set. She finished with 29 digs. Vann was also vital during the long rallies when Texas A&M would look to dump the ball on the Tigers between the blockers.
"Time and time again it was the expert hustle to keep the play alive and get another swing and possibly another swing," Kreklow said.
Vann was almost always where she was needed, hustling from the back line to keep the ball live.
The Tigers looked good but Texas A&M was able to one-up them for the duration of the first two sets.
"Often when you're down 0-2, you can come back and get the third one because their backs are against the wall," Kreklow said.
The swing counts started out high in these sets, which dragged down the hitting percentages for both teams. Missouri finished at .122 for hitting percentage while Texas A&M hit slightly lower at .111.
Texas A&M had a clear advantage in the height department with 6-foot-2-inch senior outside hitter Sarah Ammerman and 6-foot-4-inch freshman middle blocker Alisia Kastmo defending the Tigers offensive push. The Aggies senior outside hitter Mary Batis played consistently, recording 19 kills on 45 total attacks, while committing only six errors.
Both teams were stingy at the net, challenging every attack and forcing their opponent to work for every point.
The Tigers gutsy rebound from down 0-2 to the Aggies sends a message to teams around the Big 12.
"The Big 12 is a good conference and anyone can beat anyone," Wang-Francisco said. "I don't think people will see us as the dark horse anymore."