No. 25 Missouri volleyball cruises past South Carolina

Multiple long point runs resulted in a win for the Tigers’ first road win of the spring season.

Outside hitter Anna Dixon lined up in front of the net as her teammate, senior hitter Kylie Deberg, rotated back to serve. She positioned herself arms up, elbows out and knees bent the typical blocking stance.

As Deberg served the ball into play, Dixon centered her vision onto South Carolina’s side. The Gamecocks’ dig flew too far past the net. Dixon jumped and crammed the ball into the floor, while the South Carolina team stood and watched.

The overpass kill gave Missouri a 15-6 lead in the third set, a set that would propel the Tigers their first road win of the spring season in three sets.

“Our girls did some good things today,” coach Joshua Taylor said. “I was really pleased with how we started and finished the match.”

Missouri finished strong in the third, which libero Emily Brown started off with an ace. The Tigers continued to dominate as a team by trusting each other and making no mistake of whose ball was whose as the players called out each other’s names consistently.

The attacks between middle blocker Claudia Dillon and Deberg were unstoppable. As Deberg cranked the ball in the middle between the Gamecocks’ defense, Dillon ran her usual slide attack to hit the ball on a sharp-cross angle multiple times.

Deberg, named SEC’s Offensive Player of the Week on Saturday, led the Tigers with 16 kills on the match. Dillon led the team with a .417% hitting percentage.

South Carolina’s defense attempted to predict Deberg’s and Dillon’s attacks, but it couldn’t be done. Missouri went on to defeat the Gamecocks 25-15 in the third set.

Along with a few decisive rallies won by Missouri that encouraged the Tigers to press on, hitting accuracy proved to be too much for South Carolina.

Missouri tallied 41 kills and nine errors in the match, but the Gamecocks couldn’t find their rhythm as they committed 19 attack errors. The Tigers used these points to extend their run and South Carolina head coach Tom Mendoza had no choice but to call multiple timeouts to refocus his team.

As the Gamecocks committed three consecutive attacking errors post-timeout, right-side hitter Dariana Hollingsworth-Santana received more opportunities to improve her serve. This limited South Carolina’s ability to play in-system, and along with kills from Deberg, it gave the Tigers a 13-6 lead in the first set.

The Tigers’ early runs in the first and third sets helped Missouri keep the momentum over on its side and shortened any Gamecock lead.

Missouri is South Carolina’s only opponent in the past two weeks, as the program canceled its series last weekend against Kentucky due to COVID-19 contact tracing procedures. South Carolina looked rusty throughout the match.

Resentment from the Tigers’ first loss of the spring season to Tennessee two weeks ago continues to fuel Missouri. When Missouri attackers went up for spikes, they slammed them home with frustration that stemmed from that loss.

The upperclassman duo of junior setter Andrea Fuentes and Deberg kept Missouri ahead of the Gamecocks as well.

As Missouri found itself in a long rally toward the beginning of the first set, Fuentes and Deberg showed that they were on the same page. The six-foot-four All-American hitter went up for the attack as Fuentes set her three times in a row until her third attempt of the rally resulted in a kill.

With the help of her hitters, Fuentes tallied 31 assists in the match.

After last weekend’s home wins against Georgia, Taylor found that consistency is the key to the Tiger’s offense. The ball doesn’t need to be killed hard or carefully tipped on each attempt, rather the ball just needs to be in play over the opponent’s side.

“I’m happy with how we toughed it out and trusted our training in tight situations,” Taylor said.

Missouri now leads the all-time series over South Carolina 9-3 and seeks to add another win to its record as the Tigers will challenge the Gamecocks for an early Saturday morning match.

Edited by Jack Soble | jsoble@themaneater.com

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