No. 16 Missouri volleyball looks for ways to improve after Tennessee sweep

A lackluster offensive performance from Missouri resulted in a pair of losses in Knoxville.

On Friday night, Missouri outside hitter Leana Mangual-Duran attacked the ball as it ricocheted off Tennessee blocker Lily Felts and landed out of bounds. Her teammates gathered around her in celebration while the Volunteers called for a coach’s challenge. The instant replay found Mangual-Duran to be the last to touch the ball, and led Tennessee to a decisive five-set match win over the Tigers.

On Saturday, Missouri middle blocker Kenna Sauer found herself in the same position as her teammate the previous night. She hurried over late to block her marked hitter and the Volunteers made her pay. The video of Sauer’s hands and the ball in play replayed over and over on the jumbotron at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Once again, Missouri found itself at the hands of the officials. A coach’s challenge against the Tigers decided its fate as Tennessee went on to sweep Missouri in three sets.

In its five-set defeat, Missouri used Tennessee’s serving errors in the match to generate more offensive plays on its side. Tonight, however, the Volunteers worked more efficiently to keep serves in play by matching the Tiger’s nine serving errors.

Tennessee continued to launch the ball deep and spinning over to the Tiger’s side, and it gave the Volunteers a 19-12 lead to go on to win the second set. Those serves flustered Missouri, which struggled to produce any significant play after.

Missouri’s hitting became flawed as it couldn’t consistently work in system. The team altogether committed 20 attacking errors which allowed Tennessee to go on consecutive runs in each set.

The Tigers relied heavily on the performance of outside hitter Kylie Deberg to remain in the match Friday night, but tonight she lacked the endurance to keep up with a fiery Tennessee offense. She recorded eight kills on 38 attempts, an unusually low number by her standards.

It also didn’t help that outside hitter Anna Dixon struggled. The sophomore held a negative hitting percentage for a majority of the night as the Volunteers blocked off where she is most accurate. She readjusted, but wasn’t successful in finding a way to use Tennessee’s block to get points.

As Missouri’s notable offensive stars dimmed into the shadows, middle blockers Claudia Dillon and Anna D’Cruz rose to the occasion to produce successful plays for Missouri.

Dillon picked up right where she left off the night before. She continued to excel in her slide attack and keptTennessee’s blockers guessing her next move. Dillon matched her career-high with 11 kills in a match and finished with the best hitting percentage out of the entire team.

A new face on Missouri’s starting lineup tonight, D’Cruz’s perspective changed from observing on the sidelines to playing in the middle of the action. In replacement of Sauer, coach Joshua Taylor mixed up the rotation in hopes of curating a different approach to defeating a well-rounded Tennessee team.

She proved herself to be a reliable offensive player early as she won Missouri its first two points of the night. Her consistent approach helped her record nine kills.

Despite the Tiger’s tough loss, tonight’s match might give a glimpse into the future of Missouri volleyball. It is Deberg’s last season with Missouri and its newest players will need to implement ways throughout the rest of the season to record points without her.

“We’re young in multiple positions,” coach Taylor said. “This is a great experience for our girls going forward.”

As the Tigers reflect on this weekend’s loss and ways to improve, Missouri will head back home next weekend to face Georgia.

Edited by Kyle Pinnell | kpinnell@themaneater.com

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