#MizzouVBall, Sports, The Maneater

Youthful Tigers Prepare for Life in the SEC

July 31, 2012

When looking at the Missouri volleyball roster on paper, one thing stands out—the Tigers carry exactly two upperclassmen and neither are seniors.

The youth movement sweeping through Columbia is both a blessing and a curse for coach Wayne Kreklow. It means two more seasons of the dynamic juniors Molly Kreklow and Lisa Henning. But replacing the production of graduates Priscilla Armendariz (defensive specialist) and Brittney Brimmage (middleblocker) will be a challenge even for coach Kreklow, who has led the Tigers to 10 NCAA tournaments in 12 years.

With Molly Kreklow as her setter, Henning set the Missouri single season record for kills (523) in a 2011 season that saw Missouri fall to final four finisher Florida in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Kreklow led the team with 1,353 assists.

Brimmage was just as crucial on the attack for the Tigers. The Illinois native was third on the team in kills (300) and averaged almost four points per set. She started all of the Tigers 34 matches.

Henning, who earned Third Team All-American honors in the offseason, will be forced into an even bigger offensive role after Brimmage’s departure. Sophomore blocker Whitney Little could slide in to take Brimmage’s place in the middle but Wayne Kreklow could opt to use sophomore transfer Taylor Simpson in a new role, moving her from her traditional hitter position.

Armendariz, meanwhile, led Missouri in digs and had the team’s second-highest passing percentage (.964). Sophomore defensive specialist Sarah Meister could see more playing time to fill Armendariz’s void in the back row.

Sophomore Libero Jade Hayes should also provide some defensive support. Wayne Kreklow used her in a plethora of spots in 2011 moving her around in the back row and even hitter at times. This season, he says, she should be one of the better liberos in the SEC.

“She’s a very good setter. She can hit. She can pass. She can play defense. She can just do it all,” Kreklow told KOMU’s Eric Bloomberg in 2011. “It’s really gratifying to see someone like that who started so long ago and so young finally get to a point where she is going to become quite a great colligate player … I think she’s got the skills and the tools to become a really, really outstanding [libero].”

Missouri will host the annual Tiger Invitational to open its season then play two more tournaments at the Libscomb Invitational in Nashville and the Morehead State Invitational in Kentucky.

The tournaments feature each respective host university and other Division I foes, most notably preseason No. 15 Michigan, Virginia Tech and Valparaiso.

The Tigers open their SEC schedule on September 12 at home against Tennessee, a 2011 NCAA tournament qualifier. Then the team hits the road to face perennial powerhouse LSU and Florida. The Gators bounced Missouri from the NCAA tournament in 2011.

SEC games will be played on Fridays and Sundays in 2012, shifting from Wednesdays and Saturdays, when the Big 12 played its conference games.

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