Reviewin' & Previewin' - Volleyball and Soccer Recaps

As mentioned last week, I am going to try to tackle all the sports in the coming weeks to give a recap of the previous season and a look ahead at the coming season.  I will skip over football and men's basketball since those sports are certainly covered a lot more in depth than I can commit time to.  I will also skip wrestling for now as I still plan to dedicate perhap a little more time to a season recap/preview piece.  In the mean time, each Monday from here on out for a little while I will cover a couple of sports as my time allows.  And I am sure I will throw some random thoughts on the end of each post since I wont likely be able to help myself.

And for those of you who have taken a special interest in any/all of these sports, PLEASE make it a point to comment and tell me where I am horrifically short of information and/or insight.  My goal has always been to give these sports as much time and press as I can since I have a special appreciation for student athletes.  Hopefully with more conversation, the more interest can be generated.

Volleyball:

Certainly the 2007 season was a season full of promise, disappointment, and in the end, stability for the Mizzou Tigers.  Making the NCAA Tournament for the 8th straight season certainly keeps Mizzou as one of the top programs in the region and country.  However, 2008 could be a really interesting season for the Tigers as they look to improve upon their worst seasonal record for the Kreklows since their arrival from across the street at Columbia College 8 years ago.  Does the program have enough to sustain the loss of some key players?  To answer that, let's take a look at what went down in 2007 first.

The first theme of the season for Mizzou was the inability to close out opponents.  Mizzou, in their 30 matches on the season, went 5 games a remarkable 11 times, coming out with a record of 5-6, but certainly working to wear the team down in those matches.  Of the 6 losses, 3 were where Mizzou was in a position to close out the match but could not.  Obviously this play did not keep them out of the NCAA tournament, but could have certainly contributed to the team's play at time, which included 5 matches where the Tigers failed to win a game.

The second theme of the season for the Tigers had to be that of injury, and the injury to then sophomore Julianna Klein.  When she went down in the first quarter of the season, she was probably the Tiger playing the best, averaging 4.4 kills per game.  It is safe to assume Klein will be back and at full speed when the Tigers hit the sport court this summer, but her absence last season certainly hurt Mizzou as she was the only other Outside Hitter aside from Na Yang.  This did give Mizzou the chance to grow some depth (as we will examine here soon)

I think the final theme for the season in 2007 was youth.  We will chronicle the losses of Yang, Ailes, Jarocka and Lindsey Smith in a moment, but looking up and down the team, you can tell the youth of the team in the fact that there do not appear to be a senior on the squad in 2008.  True frosh Weiwen Wang and Caitlyn Vann saw action in every game last season, with Catie Wilson seeing action in all but 2.  All in all, some great experience, though as the stats will show, some things need to be ironed out for us to see improvement in 2008.

A quick look at the graduating seniors from the squad finds Lindsey Smith, a rarely used defensive specialist and Luiza Jarocka, a somewhat used setter.  Both provided some depth at their position, but did not offer much else on the court.  The two biggest losses will be in Libero Tatum Ailes and Outside Hitter Na Yang.  Ailes became the first ever defense player to make the All Big XII team and Yang leaves as the leading scorer from last season.  Both were academic All Big XII and both will leave good sized voids coming into this season.

I attempted to look at what type of talent the team would be welcoming this fall, but in a pretty decent scour of the internet, I could not find any information about who the Tigers will be welcoming to Columbia, if any I suppose.  Of course, with 4 players leaving, I have to assume we have something of a recruiting class coming into town.

One final piece to the puzzle will be a review of the stats from last season.  Mizzou was out-attacked and out-killed last season, but did hit for a slightly higher hitting percentage of .243 to .221.  Mizzou was not big on service aces, being out-aced slightly, but was far better than their opponents at getting their serves in play.  When it came to receiving serves, Mizzou opponents did a slightly better job than the Tigers, as well as in digs (though Mizzou was outdug by 8 for the entire season).  Mizzou held the advantage in blocking, and should look for that to continue this season, but was outpointed for the season overall.  Service aces are not a huge component of success, just nice if they are there.  Mizzou will need to replace the digging prowess of Tatum Ailes, who tallied over 2,000 of them, only the 2nd person in Big XII history to hit that lofty mark.

The key to the coming season?  In my estimation, it will be the play of now-redshirt junior setter Lei Wang in the middle.  As a sophomore, Wang still split a little time with Jarocka, but I believe for Mizzou to be successful, they are going to need for her to step all the way up.  A look at one final stat shows that Mizzou was out-assisted last year by almost 1 assist per game...a somewhat alarming number.  Mizzou will trot out no seniors, but a lot of talent and experience in Wang, juniors Amanda Hantoulli (who with Wang was the only Mizzou player to start all 30 games last season), Megan Wilson and the aforementioned Julianna Klein.  Also returning will obviously be the group of freshmen (now sophomores) and will hopefully be bolstered by some immediately impacting freshman.  Look for Caitlyn Vann to take over the Libero position from Ailes and for Klein to take back the spot she previously occupied to start last season to replace Yang.  All in all, though replacing a HUGE player and leader in Ailes will be tough, it is the only spot the Tigers will really have someone totally new, and Vann still started 27 games last season at the defensive specialist and libero position.

No word or look at the schedule, but Mizzou typically plays a couple of road tournaments and the Tiger Invitational.  The out of conference schedule is not typically strong, but usually holds some national talent.  Of course, the Big XII is still as tough a conference as there is in the nation, so that will obviously provide plenty of strength of schedule.  Mizzou proved last season that 10-10 in conference was good enough to make the show....will it be again?  I believe if the health of the team is strong and there is some progression from Wang (who will likely need to become one of the leaders in replacement of Ailes and Yang), the Tigers can and will get back over the 20-win plateau, extend the NCAA streak to nine seasons and continue to build their program.

Soccer:

Well, I did not anticipate taking over 1,000 words to opine about the volleyball season, so this one about the soccer team may be smaller in comparison.  But, a lot of good stuff happened with the Mizzou soccer squad last season, so I guess you never know.

Coming off of a, let's face it, terrible 2006 season which saw Mizzou only win 2 games in conference after starting off with an 8-1 non conference schedule.  No one is terribly sure how head coach Bryan Blitz did not get replaced after the season, but there was supposedly promise for the future. Well...the future was last season, and Mizzou reasserted themselves as a conference and regional power.  Mizzou finished 13-8-1 and 6-4 in conference, giving them a 4 game improvement over the previous season.  Mizzou made it back to the NCAA tournament and took a 1st round game against SEMO before falling in double OT to national power USC.  In the end, Mizzou spent most of the season in the national polls and will return a ton of talent for hopefully another extended and improved run in 2008.

2007 was all about the youth, and a few in particular.  This year should likely be all about good depth, returning talent and a good mix of youth and experience across the lineup.  Topping that experience will be juniors-to-be Kristen Andrighetto and Michelle Collins, along with sophomore-to-be Alysha Bonnick.  These three combined for 37 of Mizzou's 53 goals and 25 of Mizzou's 51 assists in 2007.  For Andrighetto, her 20 career goals currently has her already in 6th all-time at Mizzou, and another 14 goal season would put her in 2nd (currently two at 32 goals...Nikki Thole is at....um....61 goals).  With another 10 assists on the season, Bonnick would land 6th all time after just two seasons, and is well within reach of the all-time record of 32, held by Adrianne Davis.  She was also chosen to be a member of the U-20 Canadian National team, and all three (but especially Andrighetto and Bonnick) won too many awards to mention.  Just some stats to show you the type of explosive fire power which Mizzou has, not only this season, but in seasons to come.

In the back, additional experience will be provided by senior goaltender Mallory Forst, who did split time for much of the season last year with junior Tasha Dittamore.  It will be interesting to see who gets the lion's (or I guess, the Tiger's)
 share of the action this season, as they really did split time last year (12 starts and 15 games for Forst, 10 starts in 12 games for Dittamore).  The defense will be anchored by senior Lindsey McCoy and junior Crystal Wagner, who were the only two Tigers last season to start all 22 games, along with midfield junior Meghan Pfeiffer.  Senior Kat Tarr also returns to the backfield, carrying some offensive explosiveness with her, after tabbing 4 goals on the season last year.

In the middle, senior Mo Redmond was the 4th leading scorer on the team behind the big 3 and in front of Tarr after she tabbed 2 goals and 7 assists.  Janelle Cordia, another senior who started in many games last season, will finish her career as a big part as well.  It appears Mizzou may have lost junior Katya Hessel, who is not currently listed on the roster.  Junior Kari Adam, who splits time between the front and middle will also add some good experience.

With all the experience out there, both in terms of the seniors (6 along with forward Ashley Hamblin who did start 1 game last year while playing in all 22) and all the others who were so integral to the success last season, what about the new players?  From most accounts, it appears Mizzou is bringing in one heckuva class.  Midfielder Kelsey Blincow was named the Dallas Morning News Player of the year out of the soccer-rich North Dallas region.  Forward/midfielder Jessica Crabtree was named to the Greater Chicago All-Area team and local defender Liz Gayer was named as one 5 defenders to Rise Magazine all-area team.  Just shows great depth across the front, middle and back, and with 2 other midfielder/forwards out of the Chicago-land area and another defender from KC, Mizzou looks to have loaded a real nice class up.  Perhaps the only miss MIGHT have been at the keeper position, as Tasha Dittamore will now enter 2009 as the only goalie who has seen some on field action.

So...what does it all mean?  It means Mizzou should expect a similar, if not improved level of success in 2008.  The schedule seems to be pretty standard, as the Tigers will take on 7 NCAA qualifiers and 4 top 25 teams (of which Mizzou can expect to be one).  A solid spring campaign has Mizzou thinking big and it will get started with Creighton and Illinois State in the middle of August (14th and 17th) at home in exhibition before kicking off for real against Illinois on Saturday, Aug 22nd and Auburn on the 29th.  Mizzou will have a California roadtrip after that, and does have an interesting conference schedule, with 2 on the road, 2 at home, 3 on the road and then 3 at home to finish, including against kU to finish the regular season on Halloween night.  Friday night games are not a bad idea if you are in town before a home football game...this should hopefully be another season where Coach Blitz can put another year of success out there to get people away from some of the down years of the past.  Anything less than another NCAA berth will be considered a disappointment save any sort of string of devastating injuries.

Random Thoughts:

  • A thoroughly entertaining Boston/St. Louis baseball game yesterday, though good lord did Mike Parisi get rocked unceremoniously to finish it.
  • Nice to Ian Kinsler leading the AL in runs scored...gone on a bit of a HR tear this past week.
  • Nice to see Carl Edwards get back in the winner's circle on the Busch series, and then he went from Milwaukee to California, arrived just shy of 5 a.m. and did enough to finish 9th on the tough road course (where you actually have to turn right).  Great season so far for Edwards.
  • Great late-inning fireworks this week at the CWS...making me regret I did not get up there when I had the chance a few years ago. I say go Fresno!!
  • Got a chance to catch up on TV watching over the weekend.  Andromeda Strain was good watching in two parts on A&E and the Discovery series about NASA was also high level.  I was a bit disappointed with the season finale of The Ultimate Fighter and how the fight finished....and of course, this coming week marks the season finale of the unmitigated sensation whcih is "Farmer Wants a Wife"....you only think I am kidding.
  • And a 10am edit...the first goal scored by the Russians in extra time against the Dutch was one of the finer efforts I have ever seen.  The cross was just fantastic and the touch with the back of his calf was so creative.  I have little to no rooting interest in the Euro Cup, but I am pulling for Turkey/Russia and only watching the last five minutes, since that should be all you need to see based on how these teams win.
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