When a charming mouse named Stuart Little made an appearance on the silver screen in his 1999 self-titled movie, sophomore blocker Whitney Little was just 8 years old.
She marched dutifully to the theaters in her hometown Keller, Texas, to see her namesake escape naughty felines and make a home for himself in a human family.
Even at 8 years old, her grade-school classmates made plenty of puns about her name.
“Everyone would be like, ‘Are you going out with your mouse brother Stuart Little?’” she recalled. “And always the, ‘You’re so tall, why are you Little?’”
At 6 feet, 3 inches, Little is the second tallest player on the Missouri volleyball roster and has turned her name into a calling card for her game rather than comical relief.
“I guess I do a little bit of everything,” she said.
After a solid freshman season, Little has surpassed all expectations for the Tigers this year. She’s notched 34 more kills this year (98) than last year (64) through 12 matches and she’s hitting an astounding .440, good for best on the team.
“I think she’s done a really good job this fall of — which has been a very pleasant surprise — of mixing in a lot of off-speed stuff and tips,” said coach Wayne Kreklow, who noticed Little struggle in her freshman campaign with hitting errors.
This season, Little is on pace to finish with only 59 errors, 12 less than her 2011 total of 78.
“She’s not getting blocked as much because I think she’s making smarter decisions as a hitter,” he said.
Little has become a dual threat for MU as a force on both offense and defense. In two of Missouri’s last four games, she has posted a double-double in kills and blocks, nearly setting the school record for blocks in a Sept. 7 loss to Morehead State.
“I just take pride in my blocking,” Little said. “I’m getting huge blocks and big numbers and I keep trying to get better and motivate myself. Last week I was looking at SEC blocking stats and I was just thinking about trying to get my name up there in first place.”
In the Tigers’ Sunday sweep of Ole Miss, Little nearly out-hit All-American junior hitter Lisa Henning. In the first two sets of the match, Little had 12 kills on 14 attacks with no errors. Each finished the match with 13 kills.
“I was really impressed with how ready she was on the slides and going for the ball,” junior setter Molly Kreklow said. “She really hit the lights out.”
Wayne Kreklow said he thinks things connected for Little at the beginning of the fall season, when Little started making plays indicative of a higher volleyball IQ. Instead of blasting the ball into a double-block, as she may have in the past, Little became adept at tipping the ball around defenders or playing a shot to keep the rally alive.
“Sometimes you never know when things click,” he said. “But at some point in time and for some unknown reason, the light bulb just seems to all of a sudden click on and you see somebody like Whit just really kind of take off and really do a lot of smart things.”
Molly Kreklow reasoned earlier in the season that the Morehead State loss may have been Little’s breakout performance, but after her seven kills and 10 blocks helped MU upset then-No. 17 Tennessee and her 13 kills led the Tigers past Ole Miss, the setter isn’t too sure anymore.
“Ole Miss, right now, was her big game but next week it could be another game,” Molly Kreklow said. “It could be the Florida game or the LSU game. She really has the potential to keep growing and keep improving.”