Entering the weekend on a four-match winning streak, Mizzou’s momentum was halted by two losses to top-20 SEC opponents. There were a few recurring issues that popped up for the Tigers in their matches against Florida and Kentucky which will need to be addressed in the next week.
With a season-high 5,352 fans in attendance at the Hearnes Center, Mizzou stayed competitive for portions of every set before fading away late (18-25, 20-25, 20-25) against the Gators.
Down 6-5, Florida broke the deadlock with a 4-0 run punctuated by two consecutive blocks by Nnedi Okammor. Mizzou responded promptly with a 4-0 streak of their own, retaking the lead 12-11.
The Tigers kept pace and tied the match up at 15 with a kill from Dilara Gedikoglu, then everything fell apart. The Gators finished the set on a 10-3 run, showing off their top-20 pedigree and dominating Mizzou in a manner similar to that of other elite teams this season such as Louisville and Tennessee.
The Tigers stifled the Florida attack for most of the set, with one notable exception: service aces. Florida racked up five service aces during the set, and the early-season problem of communicating on serve-receive popped up again.
Mizzou began set two with some early momentum, taking a 7-4 lead with three consecutive points to bring the energy levels at the Hearnes Center back up. However, the Gators quickly responded with a 5-0 run that included two consecutive attack errors from Dilara Gedikoglu, 9-7.
The Tigers quickly tied the score back up at nine each before the two sides locked up again, trading points. Florida got back their breathing room with a 4-0 run to take the 17-13 lead before Mizzou slowly fought back to reduce the deficit to one, 21-20.
The Gators responded once more, ending the set on a 4-0 run that included two attack errors from Dawn Sullivan’s squad. The Tigers compiled seven attack errors during set two, finishing the set hitting .175.
Florida jumped out to an early 8-2 lead in the third set, giving Mizzou a tall task to avoid a sweep. The Tigers cut the deficit to two at 9-7 on the strength of a 3-0 run before a corresponding run from the Gators reextended the lead, 13-8.
Mizzou slowly closed the gap, and a late 3-0 run made the score 23-20. Florida shut the door one more time to finish off the sweep, a cream of the crop program reaffirming its status as one of the best teams in college volleyball this season.
The Tigers struggled on the attack all night, never eclipsing a .175 hitting percentage in a set and hitting .076 for the match. Only Janet deMarrais reached the double-digit mark in kills with 10 (-,027), followed by Dilara Gedikoglu (.217) and Jordan Iliff (.227) with nine kills each.
Sierra Dudley led the team with 23 assists, while Maya Sands totaled 13 digs to lead the defense, followed by Jordan Iliff with 10. The Mizzou defense limited one of the better offenses in the country to a .239 hitting percentage, and freshman phenom Kennedy Martin was held to a .185 hitting percentage on the night.
Despite the strong defensive effort, the team was sunk by a large number of errors. The Tigers finished with 23 attack errors alongside seven service errors. They also allowed eight serves to drop to the floor for aces.
Dawn Sullivan’s squad headed to Lexington on Sunday looking to fix the issue with errors and take down a top-15 squad at Rupp Arena. They were unable to accomplish either objective, although they showed fight late in the match as they fell in four sets (12-25, 15-25, 25-18, 21-25) to the Wildcats.
The first two sets were both dominated by Kentucky from start to finish. In set one, Big Blue went on a 6-0 run out of the gate. Mizzou responded with a 3-0 run to make it 8-4 before the Wildcats quickly regained control 12-6 on the strength of four consecutive points.
Never letting their foot off the accelerator, the favorites to win the SEC added on runs of 3-0 and 4-0 on their way to a 25-12 victory. The Tigers’ offensive struggles from Friday carried over early on as they finished the set hitting .000 to pair with eight attack errors.
Mizzou kept the score close to start set two before a 3-0 Kentucky run made the score 13-7. The Wildcats cruised for the rest of the set, never facing a serious challenge while extending their lead to go ahead 2-0 with another double-digit victory, 25-15.
After the Tigers were easily handled in the first two sets, all signs appeared to indicate a looming sweep by Big Blue. However, Dawn Sullivan’s squad came into set three on fire, sparring with the Wildcats as equal partners.
Mizzou moved ahead 11-9 with a 3-0 run before extended their lead to four with another 3-0 streak, 17-13. They moved ahead decisively with a 5-0 run that included two blocks from a Tigers front line which had been dormant for the majority of the match to that point, 23-15.
They clinched the third set 25-18 on a kill from Dilara Gedikoglu, avoiding a sweep and staving off defeat. Set three was a complete reversal from its predecessor, with Mizzou hitting .406 compared to .200 for the Wildcats.
Set four was very tight with the Tigers now determined to push the match into a final fifth set, and Dawn Sullivan and co. once again looked up to the challenge. Kentucky gained separation with a 3-0 run to take a 15-12 lead.
Mizzou cut the deficit to two at 18-16 before Big Blue opened up a five point lead, 21-16. Despite their best efforts, the Tigers couldn’t quite mount a comeback, and Kentucky clinched the 3-1 victory with a kill from Brooklyn DeLeye.
Offense once again proved a struggle for Mizzou, finishing the afternoon hitting .217. Dilara Gedikoglu led the team with 17 kills (.371), followed by Jordan Iliff with 12 (.138). Colleen Finney was the most efficient contributor on offense, tallying seven kills with a whopping .875 hitting percentage.
Sierra Dudley added another 42 kills to her season total, while Maya Sands was the only member of the defense to end the match with double-digit digs at 18. The Wildcats hit .386 on the day, led by Brooklyn DeLeye with 20 kills (.318) in a performance that may garner consideration for SEC Offensive Player of the Week.
Kentucky entered the match on a thirteen game winning streak, and the Tigers’ play in the final two sets certainly provided some positive takeaways from the weekend. However, the offense will need to put in a good amount of work after their struggles this weekend, and the recurring issues with errors must be cleaned up before the tournament.
Georgia will head into the match on Saturday in Athens looking for revenge after a five-set thriller at the Hearnes Center earlier this season, and Mizzou will need to be prepared if they hope to end the regular season off with a victory.