After a 1-1 finish last weekend in Coral Gables, Missouri Volleyball opens conference play with a two-game set with Mississippi State and Tennessee on the schedule for this weekend. The Tigers haven't lost a conference opener since 2011, when they fell to Iowa State on the road in three sets. On the soccer pitch, Missouri soccer will take their seven match unbeaten streak on the road to take on #5 South Carolina and #15 Florida. It'll be just the second and third ranked opponent Mizzou will have faced this year. (Lost 3-2 to #17 West Virginia earlier in season).
September 26th vs. Mississippi State (5-10)
Players to watch
Bali-Leffall Young, Sophomore MB
Young leads the team in hitting percentage with a .345 clip (8th best in SEC) through the first 15 matches, with 63 kills on the stat sheet as well. Her size also makes her a threat on the defensive end as well, tallying a team-best 35 total blocks to start the year. Attack errors have set her back on more occasions than not, so cleaning up her play could help MSU improve offensively as the year goes on.
Payton Harris, Freshman Libero
Although just a true freshman, Harris has stepped for as the leader of the Bulldogs back row, with 405 digs already this year (A team-leading and SEC best mark) for an average of 7.05 digs per set. If the offense could give her the help she needs to make this team successful, MSU can work their way out of the cellar of SEC Volleyball.
Katlyn Mataya, Junior Setter
After finishing second on the team in assists last year, Mataya is leading the way for the Bulldogs with 280 assists, just ahead of fellow setter Shelby Anderson. Right now, both have been receiving significant time at setter, and it hasn't benefitted the offense like MSU would've hoped. The Bulldogs are hitting a poor .141 this season offensively, which puts them dead last in the SEC, and 285th in the nation! So while Mataya is able to get the ball out to her offensive players, she'll need to clean up those hits if she and Mississippi State hope to get that number up before season's end.
Prediction: Missouri 3, Mississippi State 0
This will be one of the easier SEC wins for Mizzou this year. Mississippi State is struggling to hit the ball effectively, and it showed during the Bulldogs' losses this season. I fully expect the Tigers to take control and use this win to boost up the team sprit to start conference play.
September 28th vs. Tennessee (7-7)
Players to watch
Lexi Dempsey, Junior Setter
I would say Lexi Dempsey is in the same situation as Katyn Mataya: she's currently leading the team in assists, but she hasn't been able to guide the offense into any kind of rhythm, and it shows in the Lady Vols hitting percentage. (.186, 10th in SEC). She needs to keep distributing the ball like she has been, but she has to find an effective way to control the offense and guide it back into the right direction.
Iesha Bryant, Freshman MB
Just a freshmen, Bryant is putting up some very good numbers to start her career in Knoxville, with 63 kills and 51 blocks through the first 15 matches. She's just hitting .191 at the net, but she is still effective in the front row for the Volunteers.
Jamie Lea, Sophomore OH
With Ashley Mariani graduating in 2013, the bulk of their offensive production now fell onto Jamie Lea, who finished second behind Mariani in kills with 281 in her freshman year at Tennessee. In 2014, she's on pace to match those numbers from last season, with room for some possible improvements. She's pacing the Vols offense to start the year, and that's how it will most likely be for the rest of the year.
Prediction: Missouri 3, Tennessee 1
The Vols come into the Hearnes Center this Sunday at .500 this year, with several bad losses on their early resume (Austin Peay, Memphis, Nebraska-Omaha). They're a young team that definitely has the potential to improve over the next year or two, but for now, I'll say the Tigers have the advantage over UT this weekend.
September 26th @ South Carolina
Players to watch
Sabrina D'Angelo, Senior GK
No. 16 South Carolina has rolled out to a quick 8-1-0 start behind the outstanding play of All-American senior Sabrina D'Angelo, who has allowed just one goal through the first eight games of the year. That's good for a .917 save percentage, ranking her top five in the nation. She's allowed just two goals this year, and will be gunning for here, eighth shutout Friday vs. Mizzou.
Raina Johnson, Junior Mid
While the offense for South Carolina hasn't been to flashy this year, Johnson has done well to start the year with 3 goals in 2014, all of which ended up being game-winners for the Gamecocks. She, along with Sophie Groff, have relieved a little bit of pressure off D'Angelo and the back line little by little. There needs to be improvement in the offense, but South Carolina is in good hands with Johnson anchoring the middle for the 'Cocks.
Prediction: South Carolina 2, Missouri 0
Sarah D'Angelo has been phenomenal in goal this year, and while the Missouri offense opened SEC with a great offensive performance against LSU, I don't think it'll be enough to make a a dent in the South Carolina defense on the road.
September 28th @ Florida
Players to watch
Savannah Jordan, Sophomore Forward
Freshman All-American Savannah Jordan has picked up where she left off from last year, leading the Gator attack with 5 goals and 12 points, good for top five in the SEC in 2014. Jordan will be looking for her first goal since scoring two goals against New Mexico earlier this month.
Taylor Burke, Senior Keeper
Senior Keeper Taylor Burke, who has allowed just four goals on a save percentage of .800. Her play against top ranked teams Oklahoma, Stanford, and Florida State has been impressive, keeping the Gators in each game they played in. Now going into this weekend, she'll go against two of the top attacking forwards for Missouri with Regan Russell and Taylor Grant coming to town. Can she keep the net clean against the Tigers.
Prediction: Florida 2, Missouri 1
While the Tigers offense has been effective in parts this year, I'm not sure how they will keep up with a team like Florida, with some of the fasting attack players, like Savannah Jordan, in the nation. Mizzou should stay within striking distance for the majority of the game, but I think the Gators will push ahead to win the match.