Refocused No. 25 Missouri volleyball bounces back in three-set win against Georgia.

The Tigers took all three sets in its win against the weaker Bulldogs Friday night.

Missouri volleyball coach Joshua Taylor watched from the sideline as freshman libero Emily Brown served the ball with a 20-17 first-set lead.

Georgia scrambled to return the serve, but the referee stopped play as it hit the ground. As the Missouri band celebrated the ace with a loud “M-I-Z,” Georgia’s coaches conversed with the referee about the call.

Taylor braced for a repeat of last Friday’s match against Tennessee, where his team saw a handful of inch-close calls and replay reviews go in the Volunteers’ favor, and ultimately dropped both matches on the weekend. This time, no challenge was issued, the Tigers kept their point, and after battling through a back-and-forth sequence they took the first set 25-23.

“The officials weren’t that great in Tennessee, and they were good tonight,” Taylor said. “I’m not an official. I know their jobs are hard.”

The aforementioned losses were all kinds of disappointing for the Tigers. They started off 8-2 before the weekend series-sweep by Tennessee, which dropped them from coaches’ 16th best team all the way to No. 25. Despite the pressure, the second-season coach kept his team focused on preparation instead of rankings and records.

“I don’t think about that. I go in the same way to Georgia as I do Tennessee or Kentucky or anyone,” Taylor said. “I just think about an opponent.”

In the second set, Missouri turned an early 3-0 deficit into a comfortable 25-17 win. A handful of gritty plays and rally wins proved crucial as Missouri put the pressure on the 4-8 Bulldogs.

“They were in system a lot in that first set,” Taylor said. “So they were doing a nice job siding out and passing a little better than we anticipated. We got our serves a little more consistent, we were being a little more mindful, and we saw them get out of system more and more as the match went on.”

Finding his team’s strengths in a matchup and overall improvement are two main focuses for Missouri

“It's preparing to the best of our ability regardless of our opponent,” Taylor said. “And that's staff, that's players, that's everybody.”

The Tigers cruised to another 25-17 win in the third set behind three aces — the first coming from Andrea Fuentes, a redshirt junior from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Fuentes finished the night with 31 of the Tigers’ 37 assists after missing the series against Tennessee.

“She’s really devoted to putting our attackers in great positions. It was great having her back out on the court,” Taylor said. “We’re happy to have her out there leading our offense.”

Another great performance for the Tigers came from senior Kylie Deberg, who posted double-digit kills in seven-straight matches before their last match against Tennessee.

The 6-foot-4 outside hitter rose to fourth all-time in aces for the Tigers this season but had a weekend to forget. She finished the night with 14 kills on .355% hitting accuracy, but Taylor pointed out her impressive turnaround instead of her numbers.

“She was really mindful with her feet, putting herself in good body postures when attacking and serving,” Taylor said. “She did a really nice job of bouncing back from a tough weekend against Tennessee, and that's largely mental, and I was proud of her for being tough on that side of the game.”

Missouri’s focus on and off the court and an absence of coach’s challenges and drama kept the Tigers ahead on Friday. Taylor seemed pleased with the performance and the result.

“I thought we were in control a good amount of the match, and that makes my job a little bit easier as a coach,” Taylor said. “So I was happy to see that and proud of our girls.”

Edited by Kyle Pinnell | kpinnell@themaneater.com

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