No. 8 Missouri volleyball snags both games in series against Ole Miss

After not playing for 15 days, Missouri volleyball adjusted to fundamental errors and took both games against the young Rebels.
Missouri freshman Emily Brown serves the ball in a game against Ole Miss on Nov. 21, 2020. Courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics

After she tallied only three total kills in her freshman season with Missouri, outside hitter Kenna Sauer made the transition to middle blocker and more than doubled her previous season’s total kills on Saturday.

The 2020 season prompted adjustments for players and coaches alike. Travel restrictions forced Missouri volleyball players to have just nine players available for their trip to Oxford, Miss. Sauer, originally an outside hitter, played a completely different position than what is customary.

After a tough first game where both teams struggled to string together consecutive points, Missouri evaluated its most prevalent troubles against the Rebels. Those changes appeared in game two, as the Tigers relied heavily upon Sauer.

The Tigers started sluggishly, and the winless Rebels forced five sets in game one. Neither team had played since the first week of November and committed several fundamental errors.

Ole Miss and Missouri combined for 15 service errors and 41 attack errors, which accounted for the lack of consistency from either team.

Each set provided a completely different story for the Tigers. Ole Miss kept Missouri out of rotation and inflicted damage on the Tigers’ defense for the majority of the match.

The fifth and final set, however, provided a much-needed sigh of relief for Missouri coach Joshua Taylor.

“It had been 15 days since we last played so conditioning was definitely an issue, but we really came out strong and locked-in during the fifth set,” Taylor said about the first game. “We had a lot of different people step up throughout the day and our depth was crucial to our success.”

Missouri then finished the evening on a 9-0 scoring run to cap of the Rebels in game one.

After solving some of the original woes of game one, Missouri took game two in four sets. Missouri’s increased confidence proved to be a big reason why.

The SEC’s Co-Setter of the Week, Andrea Fuentes, received a consistent defense that allowed her to distribute the ball to each hitter. Every Missouri attack became unpredictable and wreaked havoc on the Ole Miss blockers.

“Our offense was fantastic, and Andrea (Fuentes) did a great job of distributing the ball,” Taylor said after game two. “We had six different players with four-plus kills, so that made it really hard on Ole Miss’ defense to lock-in on specific people.”

Kylie Deberg, in previous matches this season, powered the offense, averaging an SEC-best five kills a game coming into the weekend series against Ole Miss. The Rebels held Deberg to a .154 hitting percentage in game one, which is why Missouri’s offense struggled exceptionally on Friday.

Since Tyanna Omazic’s season-ending injury, Missouri struggled with finding consistent hitters outside of Deberg and Anna Dixon, but following this series, Taylor has to be more confident in his offense.

Dariana Hollingsworth-Santana and Sauer put up strong numbers to compliment Deberg and Dixon, both with seven kills and Sauer hitting at a .700 kill percentage without an error.

As the fall season wrapped up on Saturday, Taylor can assess his hitters’ unique skills and approaches to best position them for success in the spring.

“I’m really pleased with how our group came together after that Kentucky series and ended the fall season on a high note,” Taylor said. “We have some great momentum heading into the spring season and we can’t wait to get back on the court already.”

Edited by Kyle Pinnell | kpinnell@themaneater.com

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