Mizzou volleyball secures spot in the NCAA tournament for third straight year

The Tigers will face the Kansas Jayhawks for the first time in two years in the first round of the tournament.

Coach Wayne Kreklow holds the SEC Championship trophy after Missouri beat Tennessee on Nov. 26 2016 Maneater File Photo

The Missouri volleyball team was surrounded by friends and family Sunday evening to learn the team's first-round playoff fate in the 2017 NCAA Women’s Volleyball Championship.

The Tigers finished 20-11 overall and 13-5 in the Southeastern Conference to place third in the SEC.

Within the first few minutes of the selection show, the Tigers learned they will make a trip to Wichita, Kansas, to once again renew the Border War rivalry against the Kansas Jayhawks.

“To me, a match is a match,” head coach Wayne Kreklow said. “It's an opportunity to play a solid team in the tournament, and I think it's a tough match up for the both of us.”

During the season, the team was plagued by injuries, having to perform without key players such as dominant outside hitter and redshirt senior Melanie Crow. Being forced to switch lineups and move players around made it harder for the team to secure a postseason spot.

“Obviously we are really happy because any time you can get into the NCAA tournament, it's a huge accomplishment; only 64 teams get picked,” Kreklow said. “We struggled a lot at the beginning but really pulled together now that everyone is healthy.”

This is the third consecutive year the Tigers will have clinched a spot in the postseason, and the first time the team will play against the Jayhawks in two years.

The last time the two met was in the second round of the 2015 NCAA tournament, where the Jayhawks earned a 3-0 sweep to end the Tigers’ campaign.

Mizzou will face a senior-heavy program with many familiar faces.

“They are a top-10 or top-15 team with a senior-heavy class, and I know Ray Bechard is a great coach,” Kreklow said. “To our advantage, we know what they can do because we played them two years ago, and they have a lot of the same players.”

For upperclassmen at Mizzou, the game is an opportunity to redeem the team’s previous tournament loss to the Jayhawks.

“I remember playing against them my freshman year,” junior Alyssa Munlyn said. “We are ready to get back against them, and it's a great opportunity to make something happen.”

For redshirt senior Melanie Crow, the excitement comes from playing against a former teammate.

“My best friend [Taylor Alexander] that I played with at Ole Miss before I transferred plays for Kansas now,” Crow said. “It’s interesting because it’s going to end back to where we started, playing on the same court, and one of our careers is going to have to end.”

Having a significant amount of juniors and seniors with postseason experience is something Kreklow sees as an advantage.

“The upperclassmen have been here before, and it’s something just to know the routine, timing and the schedule of it all, and it benefits them to know how everything works,” Kreklow said. “It takes away the shock of what is to come.”

Another factor playing in the Tigers’ favor this time around versus their last meeting with the Jayhawks is the new height on the front row, which has helped the team improve its blocking on defense and make tougher swings on offense.

“I think the difference now than when we played them two years ago is now we have a lot of size on the front row,” Kreklow said. “Now we have over-6-feet-tall hitters that can work to our advantage.”

The match will take place on Friday, Dec. 1, and the first serve is set for 6 p.m. CT. If the Tigers advance to the second round of the tournament, they will remain in Wichita to play the winner of the No. 16 Wichita State-Radford game.

Edited by Joe Noser | jnoser@themaneater.com

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