Mizzou's Greatest, #68: Lindsey Hunter

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Three of Missouri’s top five all-time leaders in kills were on the receiving end of sets from Hunter at some point in their careers. Missouri’s school record-holder in career kills, Shen Danru, spent all four years of her career finishing balls set by Hunter. That’s not a coincidence.

We've already talked about the 2005 Missouri Volleyball team, and we've already talked about Lindsey Hunter in the past. But let's recap:

[The Kreklows] got perhaps the most fortuitous break of their time at Mizzou when Kansas State coach Jim McLaughlin left KSU for Washington shortly before the 2001 season. Why was that great for Mizzou? Not only was McLaughlin building a budding major power in Manhattan, but he was also poised to sign setter Lindsey Hunter, who decided instead to sign with Mizzou a couple of months later.

If Mizzou was solid without Hunter, they turned a major corner with her. In 2002, with Hunter setting the table as a true freshman (and fellow freshman Shen Danru both playing at a high level and representing a stellar recruiting strategy for the Kreklows -- using their China connections to bring a series of solid players to Columbia through the years), the Tigers won 26 games and came within five points in the fifth set of going to the Sweet Sixteen. In 2003, with a super-young roster, Mizzou fell into a slump down the stretch but still advanced to the NCAAs and fell in five sets in the first round. The 2004 season, however, saw a real move forward. Mizzou went 20-9 with a tough schedule, and the growing fan enthusiasm and attendance led to Mizzou hosting an NCAA regional for the first time. They were upset by a streaking Louisville team in the second round, but Mizzou's momentum, both on the court and in the stands, were unmistakable.

In 2005, it all came together.

You don't have to understand volleyball stats to start to figure out how impressive these stats are:

2002: 120 games, 78 kills, 0.178 kill percentage, 14.1 assists per game, 28 aces
2003: 115 games, 101 kills, 0.267 kill percentage, 12.3 assists per game, 44 aces
2004: 95 games, 88 kills, 0.266 kill percentage, 14.4 assists per game, 26 aces
2005: 106 games, 100 kills, 0.328 kill percentage, 14.2 assists per game, 42 aces

In 2012, Molly Kreklow, a very good setter with an All-American hitter at her disposal, averaged 10.4 assists per game. (In Kreklow's defense, she also had 119 kills.) Hunter set the bar for all setters that would follow her, and nobody has yet measured up, in terms of stats or wins. And she has kept right on making an impact since her eligibility ran out. I asked RPT, who did play-by-play for the 2010 volleyball team with Hunter as his color commentator, for a contribution, and here's what he gave me:

Hunter’s impact on the Missouri volleyball program as a student-athlete isn’t really debatable. The assist categories in the school record book are like her own personal diary. Three of Missouri’s top five all-time leaders in kills were on the receiving end of sets from Hunter at some point in their careers. Missouri’s school record-holder in career kills, Shen Danru, spent all four years of her career finishing balls set by Hunter. That’s not a coincidence.

If you’re like me, odds are that you find the "Hire Chase Daniel as Offensive Coordinator or Quarterbacks Coach" bit equally hilarious and intriguing. In theory, it makes sense. The person that directed a high-powered attack during the program’s best sustained stretch in history (deal with it, 1960) is exactly the type of person you want in and around your program, right? While the internet yearns for that to happen at Faurot Field, it’s already happening across Mick Deaver Drive at the Hearnes Center.

Hunter’s hiring as an assistant prior to the 2011 season made total and complete sense for a variety of reasons. We’ve touched on her playing pedigree already, but beyond that, she comes from one of the biggest (if not THE biggest) volleyball powerhouses in the country in Papillion, Neb. (though family ties weren’t enough to recruit her mega-prospect sister away from the Huskers this past year). Hunter adds credibility in that Nebraska recruiting pipeline that is crucial for sustained success as a Midwestern program. Her background means a lot for all six players on the floor, but none more so than the setter, and she’s got a fantastic one to continue molding in her image in Molly Kreklow.

Of course, all of this comes with the important caveat that I had the good fortune of spending the 2010 season broadcasting Missouri volleyball with Hunter, including the team’s postseason run to the Sweet 16 in State College, Pa.

When Bill [rightfully] included the 2005 volleyball team in The Greatest, predictable internet comments were predictable. Some people may not enjoy watching women’s volleyball, and to each their own. But even though I’ve enjoyed the sport since my high school days, I can unequivocally say that there’s nothing like learning the sport at a new level by watching it and analyzing it with an All-American by your side for an entire season. I owe Hunter credit for making me look half-decent as a play-by-play guy all year, but more importantly, for both deepening and widening my love of the sport. Tendencies got easier to pick up and the chess match became apparent under points moving at 100 miles an hour. Learning the numbered offensive calls were like my dad teaching me the old Coryell route tree as a child. Every practice and every match was my volleyball equivalent of Dave Matter’s old "Cut to the Chase" posts from 2007.

I add these past two paragraphs not to add subjective bias to what should be her objective inclusion on this list, but as further proof of the fact that Hunter’s contribution to Mizzou volleyball didn’t expire with her eligibility in 2005. As a player, broadcaster, Total Person Program grad assistant, mentor, and now as a coach, Hunter’s work as an ambassador for a Mizzou program that has made 10 tournament appearances in the last 13 seasons cannot and should not be undervalued.

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