Tuesday, October 10, 2006

MU-NU Volleyball Preview

By Tiger Fan

The football team’s surprising 6-0 start has been dominating the Mizzou sports headlines – and deservedly so. But the biggest sporting event in Columbia so far this year is taking place at the Hearnes Center Wednesday night. The undefeated, No. 1 Nebraska Cornhuskers come calling to take on No. 15 Mizzou. That’s right, it’s Mizzou vs. Nebraska on Oct. 11. If that date sounds familiar to you (and it should), that’s because it has been exactly three years since the Tiger football team ended 25 years of futility against Nebraska. Can the same thing happen tomorrow? Let’s hope so… but it would be a huge upset. How huge? The Tigers are 3-61 all-time against Nebraska, NU has won the last 21 matches in Columbia (dating back to 1982) and the Huskers have won 50 of their last 52 overall.

The odds may seem insurmountable, but that’s where the fans come in. Last year I made the trip to Columbia from St. Louis on a Wednesday night with Born-a-Tiger and Rocky Mountain Tiger to watch this game and had a blast. It was the most fun I had a Mizzou sporting event all last year. You know if the No. 1 football team in the country came calling, you would be there. So if you are anywhere near Columbia tomorrow night, get to the match. It starts at 6:30 CST. Let’s break 7,300… shoot, break 8,000. Screw it: Hearnes holds 13,611 people. There will be plenty of room. Try to fill it up. By the way, it’s “Can the Huskers” night, so you get in free with two canned goods. And the first 400 students get free pizza. There just aren’t many excuses to miss it, folks.

But if for some reason you can’t be there (like me… I’ve got class at Wash U), catch it on TV. Fox Sports Midwest is carrying the game in St. Louis, KZOU in Columbia and MetroSports in KC. Since most folks probably don’t follow college volleyball too closely, here are a few things to be aware of before Wednesday’s big match:

Five things to know about the Tigers…

  1. In case you have been living in a hole, let me introduce you to Wayne and Susan Kreklow. Most Mizzou fans have spent the last six years whining about Quin Snyder or calling for Gary Pinkel’s head, blissfully unaware that the biggest athletic turnaround at the school was quietly taking place at the Hearnes Center. It’s hard to believe that just six years ago, the Tigers were at the bottom of the Big XII. Mizzou’s volleyball team had been in shambles since the early ‘80s, but it didn’t take the Kreklows long to turn things around. The Tigers have posted 20-win seasons in five of their first six years at Mizzou and earned the school’s first-ever postseason win in 2002. They may have been overlooked at first, but it’s not a secret anymore… look no further than the attendance figures and the win-loss record.
  2. The 2005 campaign was the most successful season in Mizzou volleyball history. The Tigers advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament for the first time, knocking off perennial power Hawaii before losing to Tennessee. The Tigers finished the season No. 8 in the country with a 25-5 record. Two of those losses came to Nebraska.
  3. The star of last year’s team was Mizzou’s first-ever AVCA All-American Lindsey Hunter, but now that she has graduated, you might be wondering how Mizzou can replace her. Of course, we also thought there was no way to replace Brad Smith. Here are some names to know: Senior Jessica Vander Kooi, who was an honorable mention All-American a year ago, leads the team and was named to the preseason All-Big XII. Tatum Ailes is the reigning Big XII Libero of the Year. And last but not least, keep an eye out for Nicole Wilson, who was also an honorable mention All-American last season.
  4. The Hearnes Center is quickly becoming one of the toughest places in the country to play. The Tigers ranked 6th in the nation last year in attendance and had a record crowd of 7,298 for last year’s game against the Huskers. Mizzou ranks No. 8 in attendance this year and is currently in the midst of an 11-game home winning streak. The student section, known as Volley Zou, is seated close to the action and is developing a reputation for intimidating opposing teams who aren’t used to getting heckled on the road. Let’s keep it going and rattle the Huskers!
  5. Something to keep an eye on… Nicole Wilson and her sister, RS freshman Megan Wilson are both from Lincoln, Ailes is from Bellevue, NE, and RS freshman Amanda Hantouli is from Omaha. Do you think these girls will be pumped up to take on the Huskers? You bet.

Five things to know about Nebraska

  1. Nebraska annually fields one of the top teams in the nation. The Huskers are currently ranked No. 1 in the country and come to Columbia with a perfect 15-0 record. Despite all their success (eight final four visits and 22 NCAA tournament appearances), they have won only two national titles (1995 and 2000). Hmmm… lots of hype, lots of conference titles, lots of Final Fours, but unable to win the big one... this reminds me of someone… oh yeah, kU basketball. And if that comparison doesn’t get you fired up, I don’t know what will.
  2. The Huskers boasted three first-team All-Americans last season and two of them are back. Senior Christina Houghtelling was the AVCA Player of the Year last year and 6’5” junior Sarah Pavan was named a first-team All-American for the second straight year in 2005. Of course, I’m a little confused on how Pavan can be an all-American… ‘cause she’s from Canada.
  3. Nebraska has only dropped three games all year and have yet to be pushed to a five-game match (for those who are new to college volleyball, it’s a best of five affair… the Huskers usually win 3-0). While impressive, it should be noted that they have only faced three top 25 foes: No. 23 Minnesota, No. 22 San Diego and No. 20 Cal Poly. Mizzou should be their hardest test to date. The good news? The Tigers have also played three top 25 teams: No. 2 Penn State, No. 10 Texas and No. 17 Santa Clara. The bad news? Mizzou lost to Penn State and Santa Clara.
  4. Despite a 35-1 record and a roster packed with All-Americans, the Huskers were swept three games to none in last year’s national title match against Washington.
  5. Nebraska has two players named “Dani” and one named “Kori.” I don’t know about you, but I can stand that insufferable “i” at the end. I’ll just assume they dot it with a little heart. But here’s the real question: nobody named “Brandi” or “Traci” playing volleyball in Nebraska?


Christina Walden said...

Thanks for the support of volleyball! I've commented on your blog a few times before about baseball, but I'm actually one of the student assistants for the volleyball team. As a team, we've had our eye on this match for a while now, and we can't wait to take on the Huskers on our home court! If you can't make it out for this match, there are still a more left on the season, and the atmosphere is amazing every night...not just once a year.

Tiger Fan said...

I'll be there for the KSU match next weekend with at least four or five others. Looking forward to it.