Missouri volleyball opens NCAA tournament with 3-2 victory over No. 19 Kansas

The team’s first win against a ranked opponent this season came against a longtime rival.

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The 2017 edition of the Border War is now tied 1-1, although Missouri volleyball’s NCAA tournament victory Friday night is certainly worth more in bragging terms than Kansas men’s basketball’s preseason exhibition win in October.

Mizzou volleyball opened its postseason campaign by eliminating its bitter rivals, the No. 19-ranked Kansas Jayhawks, with a thrilling 3-2 triumph in Wichita, Kansas. The win was the team’s first against a ranked opponent this season.

The first set foreshadowed what was to be a back-and-forth match, as there were four lead changes and 10 ties before the Tigers finally broke away in the final points. Mizzou won the set 25-23 despite gifting Kansas five points from service errors.

The Jayhawks dominated the second set, winning 25-15 and limiting the Tigers to hitting -.026. This prompted Mizzou head coach Wayne Kreklow to change his formation to the 6-1, run by senior setter Courtney Eckenrode. The change was an effort to rest redshirt senior Melanie Crow, who struggled on Friday, posting only four kills on 22 attacks.

The formation change sparked a momentum shift, as Mizzou flipped the script in the third set. Freshman Dariana Hollingsworth led the Tigers to a 25-15 set victory with six kills in seven attacks, and the Jayhawks found themselves facing elimination, losing 2-1 overall.

But Kansas responded well in the fourth set and pulled away through an 11-3 run, spearheaded by five consecutive serves by senior Tori Miller, whose serves wreaked havoc on the Tiger defense the entire night. Jayhawk senior Madison Rigdon followed that up with a four-serve run of her own and Kansas won the set 25-20, forcing a definitive fifth set.

The Tigers started the final set on fire and carried all of the momentum after junior Alyssa Munlyn recorded her ninth kill of the day at the end of a long and exciting rally, extending Mizzou’s lead to 7-3. However, the final outcome once again looked hazy when Rigdon cut the deficit to 9-6 with her second ace of the match, forcing Kreklow to take a timeout.

The Tigers finally regained control, and Mizzou won the set 15-10 when Miller placed the ball just past the endline and out of bounds, solidifying the Tigers’ spot in the second round of the tournament.

“Obviously, we’re really happy with the outcome,” Kreklow said in a press release. “Kansas is a great team. You always know that when you play Kansas, they’re going to be really well prepared and play well. If you’re going to beat them then you’ll truly have to beat them. You can’t give sets away. I thought our players did a real nice job of making big plays when they had to down the stretch. I was really proud of our resiliency tonight and our will to fight. It was a good team win.”

Mizzou once again displayed a very balanced offense, with Munlyn, Hollingsworth, redshirt senior Kira Larson and senior Sydney Deeken all posting double digit kills. Larson led the way with 17 kills on .400 hitting.

The Tigers also impressed defensively, with Hollingsworth and redshirt sophomore Riley Sents leading the team with 19 and 18 digs, respectively. Surprisingly, Mizzou’s blocking, which has been dominant this year at 3.03 blocks per set, did not have a major effect against Kansas as the team only averaged 1.4 blocks per set on Friday.

Additionally, Eckenrode tallied 50 assists against the Jayhawks, her second highest total this season.

Mizzou will not be able to enjoy its victory for long, however, as its second-round fixture starts less than 24 hours after the first one ended. The Tigers will take on the No. 16-ranked Wichita State Shockers, who defeated Radford 3-0 in the first round of the tournament. The first serve is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT on Saturday in Wichita.

Edited by Joe Noser | jnoser@themaneater.com

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