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Tigers pass first test against Hokies

Hayes, Henning lead the way in Tigers’ victory over Virginia Tech.

After a midday romp over North Florida, the Missouri volleyball team faced its first test of the season Saturday night against Virginia Tech.

The Hokies pushed the Tigers, hosts of the annual Tiger Invitation, to four sets in the tournament’s day-one nightcap in front of nearly 2,000 supporters in a loud Hearnes Center, but Missouri came away victorious, emerging from the intermission between sets two and three and dominating the match’s remainder.

“It’s one of those (games),” head coach Wayne Kreklow said, “that at the end of the year I think we’re going to look back at this and say ‘that was a big win for us.’”

The combination of Tigers’ experienced offense and up-and-coming defense proved to much for the Hokies who won their opening match against Nicholls State.

Trailing in the first set, junior hitter Lisa Henning stepped to the service line and put the wind in the Tigers’ sails, delivering three solid serves, one of which an ace, that gave Missouri a lead it would not relinquish, going on to take the set 25-22. Henning finished the game with 15 kills and two aces.

“(Junior setter) Molly (Kreklow) and Lisa had to act like upperclassmen last year because we only had two seniors and I think that was really good for them,” blocker Whitney Little said. “Yeah, we had a season last year, but we’re still considered a young team. And I think Molly and Lisa have the confidence in all of us and themselves to show everyone that if something is happening, if we’re getting down or something, they’re right there to pick us right back up.”

Following a sluggish first set win and second set loss, Missouri took control after the second set break. Molly Kreklow notched an additional 13 assists in the third period. Henning added five kills of her own and freshman blocker Lydia Ely made and instant impact with three kills off the bench. Sophomore libero Jade Hayes had six digs in the frame.

Aside from scoring the first point in the third and fourth sets, Virginia Tech never had another share of the lead.

“That’s why having good depth is really important,” Wayne Kreklow said, pleased that his system was humming in near mid-season form, save for sophomore hitter and transfer Taylor Simpson, who finished with 13 digs and 12 kills.

“It’s going to take her a little bit of time to feel comfortable,” he said of Simpson. “(She’s) adjusting to a new system and everybody does things a little bit different. I think she’s feeling a little bit more at home and what I expect from her is she’ll get better and better and better as we go.”

Hayes and sophomore defensive specialist Niki Collier anchored the Tiger back line in the absence of sophomore specialist Sarah Meister. Meister’s suspension following a driving while intoxicated arrest was lifted before the match and she saw limited time in the first set then did not re-enter.

Meanwhile, Hayes was impressive in the libero role, taking the place of the reliable but graduated Pip Armendariz. Hayes finished with a match-high 17 digs and six assists, second best on the team.

“The coaches have been really working with and trying to get me in the right spots,” Hayes said. “I think (assistant coach) Deng Yang said it best. She was just like ‘your athleticism is a blessing, but you have to harness it a little bit.’ She always says ‘calm brain,’ and just the coaches’ positive energy toward it all is very helpful.”

Tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. the Tigers face Nicholls State at the Hearnes Center then No. 23 Michigan at 7 p.m. to cap off the season-opening tournament.

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