Missouri volleyball loses first away match of the season to Tennessee

After a weekend off, the Tigers couldn’t keep up with the Volunteers.

The call shocked Missouri, and it would remain in shock for the rest of the match.

Tigers outside hitter Leandra Mangual-Duran quickly transitioned back to the line to set herself up for the attack. She blasted through her approach up to the ball and was quickly rejected by the Tennessee block that forced the ball out of bounds resulting in a point for the Tigers.

However, the Volunteers saw something that the officials didn’t notice. Tennessee used its coach’s challenge on the play to discover that the ball grazed against Mangual-Duran’s jersey. The overturned call led Missouri on to drop the match to Tennessee in five sets.

The Tigers became flustered and out of focus after the overturned call, and had no response to Tennessee’s high-energy plays. Missouri wasn’t playing as its usual united front.

“That was a tough one tonight,” coach Joshua Taylor said. “We had some good moments, but needed to take care of our side a bit better at times.”

Some of its strongest hitters, such as outside Anna Dixon, did not play to their highest caliber. The sophomore transfer had one of her lowest hitting percentages of the entire match. Her unforced errors gave her trouble and she never recovered. However, middle blocker Claudia Dillon stepped up to the plate to become an offensive threat for the night. She found her rhythm early in the match and recognized that the Tennessee blockers were slow to catch onto her slide approach.

She aggressively attacked, kill after kill and targeted sharp angles. Dillon had the highest hitting percentage at .611% on the entire squad and recorded a career-high 11 kills.

While Dillon racked up kills, Tennessee’s energy slowly dipped. Miscommunication on the Volunteers’ side gave Missouri more opportunities to be in-system which allowed for the Tigers to have more options on the offense and win two sets.

The in-system plays gave junior setter Jaden Newsome the ability to create offensive plays for herself. Newsome responded to Tennessee’s setter after it quickly pushed over the ball to a spot not covered on the Tiger’s side. Her feet left the ground for a jump set and at the last second pushed the ball over to where no Volunteer could cover. From there, it became a battle between the setters. Newsome produced a career-high five kills for the night.

As the Volunteers recognized Newsome’s habits, the Tiger’s defense became off guard in covering. Missouri’s formation left Tennessee an open hole it would use to its advantage.

After Tennessee tormented the Tigers with a relentless dumping spree early in the match, it needed to find a way to readjust. Senior outside hitter Kylie Deberg answered with a kill and cheered with her teammates as she gathered them into a post-point huddle.

The offensive all-star time after time kept the Tigers in the game when it seemed like all hope was lost. Both sets that Missouri won in the match were clinched by a Deberg kill.

Her court awareness left Tennessee’s defense guessing as they continuously sprawled out on the ground in defeat. Named SEC’s Week 7 overall and offensive player of the week, Deberg continued to record 23 kills in the match and became the offensive presence needed to keep Missouri in the fight.

The Tiger’s relied heavily on Deberg throughout the entire match, but one player didn't make up for the rest of the team. Tennessee’s wall of blocking quickly caught on to Deberg’s tendencies and was able to minimize the damage she inflicted on its side.

The Volunteers used these points as huge momentum swings that changed the narrative. The Tigers were up 15-9 in the fourth set anticipating its last win to secure the outcome of the match. Yet, Tennessee wouldn’t let down without a fight.

A block that shut down Deberg increased the Volunteers’ energy to embark on a 5-0 run looking to put the Tigers on upset alert as it found the lead once again. Tennessee’s energy and accuracy through the remainder of the match haunted the Tigers and handed Missouri its first away loss of the spring season.

The Tigers will face the Volunteers for a rematch tonight at 5:30 p.m. on SEC+.

Edited by Jack Soble | jsoble@themaneater.com

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